The New Populism Is A Fight For America’s Values

by Elizabeth Warren, The New Populism conference, May 22, 2014 https://ourfuture.org/20140522/the-new-populism-is-a-fight-for-americas-values

Excerpt:

populism –  the power of the people to make change in this country… In every fight to build opportunity in this country, in every fight to level the playing field, in every fight for working families, the path has been steep.

Throughout our history, powerful interests have tried to capture Washington and rig the system in their favor. From tax policy to retirement security, the voices of hard-working people get drowned out by powerful industries and well-financed front groups. Those with power fight to make sure that every rule tilts in their favor. Everyone else just gets left behind.

…The tilt in the playing field is everywhere…The game is rigged. The rich and the powerful have lobbyists, lobbyists and lawyers and plenty of friends in Congress. Everyone else, not so much. Now we can whine about it. We can whimper. Or we can fight back. Me? I’m fighting back.This is a fight over economics, over privilege, over power. But deep down, this is a fight over values. Conservatives and their powerful friends will continue to be guided by their age-old principle: “I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.” But we’re guided by principle, too. It’s a simple idea: We all do better when we work together and invest in our future…We – the people – decide the future of this country. https://ourfuture.org/20140522/the-new-populism-is-a-fight-for-americas-values

Full text

Thank you, Bob Borosage and Roger Hickey for all your hard work, for inviting me here today, and for featuring my book, “A Fighting Chance.”

I wrote this book out of gratitude – gratitude to my parents who worked so hard and had so little. And gratitude for an America that gave a kid like me a fighting chance.

I’m told you’ve spent much of the day talking about populism – about the power of the people to make change in this country. This is something I believe in deeply.

In 2009, I was fighting hard for a new consumer agency that would level the playing field for families, by preventing the big banks from pushing people into loading up on credit cards and mortgages with tricks and traps. As you probably remember, the big banks hated the idea. For over a year, they spent more than $1 million dollars a day lobbying Congress to stop financial reforms.

But we were able to fight back. We were able to fight back because people like you – along with people across the country – said: we’re in this fight, too.

And because the people were with us, we won that fight.

And it matters. That little agency has been up and running for only a couple of years, but already it has forced the largest financial institutions in this country to return more than $3 billion to people they cheated. That’s how we can make government work for people!

Our uphill, against-the-odds, can’t-win battle for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wasn’t unique. In every fight to build opportunity in this country, in every fight to level the playing field, in every fight for working families, the path has been steep.

Throughout our history, powerful interests have tried to capture Washington and rig the system in their favor. From tax policy to retirement security, the voices of hard-working people get drowned out by powerful industries and well-financed front groups. Those with power fight to make sure that every rule tilts in their favor. Everyone else just gets left behind.

Just look at the big banks. They cheated American families, crashed the economy, got bailed out, and now the six biggest banks are 37 percent bigger than they were in 2008. They still swagger through Washington, blocking reforms and pushing around agencies. A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank breaks the law on laundering drug money or manipulating currency, and no one even gets arrested. The game is rigged – and it’s not right!

But it isn’t just the big banks. Look at the choices the Federal government makes: Our college kids are getting crushed by student loan debt. We need to rebuild our roads and bridges and upgrade our power grids. We need more investment in medical research and scientific research. But instead of building a future, this country is bleeding billions of dollars in tax loopholes and subsidies that go to rich and profitable corporations. Many Fortune 500 companies, profitable companies, pay zero in taxes. Billionaires get so many tax loopholes that they pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. But they have lobbyists – and their Republican friends – to protect every loophole and every privilege. The game is rigged – and it’s not right!

Or take a look at what’s happening with trade deals.

For big corporations, trade agreement time is like Christmas morning. They can get special gifts they could never pass through Congress out in public. Because it’s a trade deal, the negotiations are secret and the big corporations can do their work behind closed doors. We’ve seen what happens here at home when our trading partners around the world are allowed to ignore workers rights and environmental rules. From what I hear, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters, and outsourcers are all salivating at the chance to rig the upcoming trade deals in their favor.

Why are trade deals secret? I’ve heard the supporters of these deals actually say that they have to be secret because if the American people knew what was going on, they would be opposed. Think about that. Real people – people whose jobs are at stake, small business owners who don’t want to compete with overseas companies that dump their waste in rivers and hire workers for a dollar a day – those people, those people without an army of lobbyists – would be opposed. I believe that if people across this country would be opposed to a particular trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not happen.

The tilt in the playing field is everywhere. When conservatives talk about opportunity, they mean opportunities for the rich to get richer, for the powerful to get more powerful. They don’t mean opportunities for a young person facing $100,000 in student loan debt to start a life, for someone out of work to get back on his feet, for someone who worked hard all her life to retire with dignity.

The game is rigged. The rich and the powerful have lobbyists, lobbyists and lawyers and plenty of friends in Congress. Everyone else, not so much.

Now we can whine about it. We can whimper. Or we can fight back. Me? I’m fighting back.

This is a fight over economics, over privilege, over power. But deep down, this is a fight over values. Conservatives and their powerful friends will continue to be guided by their age-old principle: “I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.”

But we’re guided by principle, too. It’s a simple idea: We all do better when we work together and invest in our future.

We know that the economy grows when hard-working families have the opportunity to improve their lives. We know that the country gets stronger when we invest in helping people succeed. We know that our lives improve when we care for our neighbors and help build a future not just for some of our kids – but for all of our kids.

These are progressive values. These are America’s values.

These values play out every day. These values are what we’re willing to fight for.

We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage – and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security – and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt – and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe workers have a right to come together, to bargain together and to rebuild America’s middle class – and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe in equal pay for equal work – and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe equal means equal, and that’s true in the workplace and in marriage, true for all our families – and we’re winning that fight right now.

We – the people – decide the future of this country.

These are our shared values. And we are willing to fight for them.

This is our fight!

https://ourfuture.org/20140522/the-new-populism-is-a-fight-for-americas-values

Organizer in Chief?

by Peter Dreier, first posted on The Huffington Post, posted on BillMoyers.com, 12/13/14

Occasionally, President Barack Obama reminds us that he was once a community organizer.

In his interview Monday night with BET News, Obama said that he had invited some people who have been organizing protests against police misconduct to meet with him at the White House last week.

“Because the old adage, power concedes nothing without a fight — I think that’s true,” Obama said.

Obama was closely paraphrasing a statement by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass that is well-known among community organizers and activists: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

This is not a phrase that most politicians would be familiar with. Obama probably first heard Douglass’ words during his three years as a community organizer in Chicago during the 1980s. Douglass’ famous one-liner was actually part of a speech he gave on August 3, 1857 in Canandaigua, New York. Civil rights and community organizers rediscovered Douglass’ words in the 1960s and they’ve become a key part of the ideas that young activists imbibe, especially these two paragraphs:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Obama echoed Douglass’ sentiments in several parts of his BET interview. He said that he supported the protests over police killings of unarmed black males so long as they are peaceful.

A country’s conscience sometimes has to be triggered by some inconvenience, because I think a lot of people who saw the Eric Garner video are troubled, even if they haven’t had that same experience themselves. Even if they’re not African-American or Latino,” said Obama.

He noted that the news media and the public, sometimes lose interest in an issue as new topics grab their attention, “so the value of peaceful protests — activism, organizing — is it reminds the society this is not yet done.”

In 1985, at age 23, Obama was hired by the Developing Communities Project, a coalition of churches on Chicago’s South Side, to help empower residents to win improved playgrounds, after-school programs, job training, housing and other concerns affecting a neighborhood hurt by large-scale layoffs from the nearby steel mills and neglect by banks, retail stores and the local government. He knocked on doors and talked to people in their kitchens, living rooms and churches about the problems they faced and why they needed to get involved to change things.

As an organizer, Obama learned the skills of motivating and mobilizing people who had little faith in their ability to make politicians, corporations and other powerful institutions accountable. Obama taught low-income people how to analyze power relations, gain confidence in their own leadership abilities and work together.

For example, he organized tenants in the troubled Altgelt Gardens public housing project to push the city to remove dangerous asbestos in their apartments, a campaign that he acknowledged resulted in only a partial victory. After Obama helped organize a large mass meeting of angry tenants, the city government started to test and seal asbestos in some apartments, but ran out of money to complete the task.

Although he didn’t make community organizing a lifetime career — he left Chicago to attend Harvard Law School — Obama said that his organizing experience had shaped his approach to politics. After law school, Obama returned to Chicago to practice and teach law. But in the mid-1990s, he also began contemplating running for office. In 1995, he told a Chicago newspaper, “What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer — as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?”

During his 2008 campaign for president, Obama frequently referred to the three years he spent as a community organizer as “the best education I ever had.” He often referred to the valuable lessons he learned working “in the streets” of Chicago.

“I’ve won some good fights and I’ve also lost some fights, because good intentions are not enough, when not fortified with political will and political power,” echoing Frederick Douglass’ sentiments.

In 2008, Obama enlisted Marshall Ganz, a Harvard professor who is one of the country’s leading organizing theorists and practitioners, to help train organizers and volunteers as a key component of his presidential campaign. Ganz was instrumental in shaping the volunteer training experience.

Many Obama campaign volunteers went through several days of intense training sessions called “Camp Obama.” The sessions were led by Ganz and other experienced organizers, including Mike Kruglik, one of Obama’s organizing mentors in Chicago. Potential field organizers were given an overview of the history of grassroots organizing techniques and the key lessons of campaigns that have succeeded and failed.

During that contest, the Obama campaign drew on community organizing techniques to build an effective grassroots organization that increased registration and turnout among voters, particularly African-Americans and 18 to 29 year olds. Both groups not only voted overwhelmingly for Obama but also came to the polls in relatively high numbers.

Throughout that 2008 campaign, Obama consistently praised the young organizers working on his staff and the role of organizers in American history.

“Nothing in this country worthwhile has ever happened except when somebody somewhere was willing to hope,” Obama said during that first campaign for the White House. “That is how workers won the right to organize against violence and intimidation. That’s how women won the right to vote. That’s how young people traveled south to march and to sit in and to be beaten, and some went to jail and some died for freedom’s cause.” Change comes about, Obama said, by “imagining, and then fighting for, and then working for, what did not seem possible before.”

In town forums and living-room meetings, Obama told audiences that “real change” only comes about from the “bottom up,” but that as president, he can give voice to those organizing in their workplaces, communities and congregations around a positive vision for change. “That’s leadership,” he says.

Many of the organizers who worked on Obama’s first campaign wound up working for Organizing for America (now called Organizing for Action), a White House-led organization that was intended to keep the campaign volunteers involved in issue battles in-between election cycles. OFA has not lived up to its early promise, but many people trained in organizing skills in the first and second Obama campaigns went on to play key roles in other Democratic Party contests for Congress, governor races and various issue campaign.

As soon as Obama won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, and even more since entering the White House, he has been subjected to constant attacks by right-wing talk show hosts and bloggers for his background as a community organizer. They’ve sought to demonize Obama as a “radical” and a “socialist” by linking him to Saul Alinsky, one of the founders of modern community organizing who died at 63 in 1972. Obama never met Alinsky but he was no doubt familiar with his ideas, summarized in two books – Reveille for Radicals (1946) and Rules for Radicals (1971).

Tens of thousands of organizers and activists have been directly or indirectly influenced by Alinsky’s ideas about organizing. Most of them — like the young Barack Obama — have been liberals and progressives, following Alinsky’s instincts to challenge the rich and powerful. The left, however, has no monopoly on using Alinsky’s techniques. After Obama took office in 2009, even as the tea party and conservatives like Glenn Beck attacked Obama for being a radical, they began recommending Alinsky’s books as training tools for building a right-wing movement. Freedom Works, a corporate-funded conservative group started by former Republican congressman Dick Armey, used Rules for Radicals as a primer for its training of tea party activists. One tea party leader explained, “Alinsky’s book is important because there really is no equivalent book for conservatives. There’s no ‘Rules for Counter-Radicals.’”

There are tens of thousands of Americans today who earn a living as organizers for unions, environmental groups, LGBT and women’s rights groups, community organizations, school reform groups and others causes, and millions of people who participate in the meetings, lobbying campaigns, get-out-the-vote efforts and occasional protests that these groups sponsor.

The mainstream media routinely ignores community organizing except when groups engage in dramatic protest, such as the current turmoil in Ferguson and elsewhere. Not a single daily newspaper has a reporter assigned full-time to cover community organizing. Environmental reporters mainly focus on scientific debates or politicians’ maneuverings over legislation, not the grassroots activism that helps turn pollution problems into public issues. Every newspaper has a business section that typically regurgitates the activities of corporate America, but the New York Times is the only major daily newspaper with a full-time reporter covering the labor movement, but last week that reporter, Steve Greenhouse, announced he would soon leave the paper and it isn’t clear whether the Times will replace him on the labor beat.

The editors of most major newspapers and TV networks can probably tell you the name of the CEO of at least one major Wall Street bank or the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but few likely could identify the leaders of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the Center for Community Change, National Peoples Action, PICO, U.S. Action, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, or the NAACP and few reporters for local papers cover the day-to-day activities of the thousands of groups that mobilize people at work, in their neighborhoods and through their faith-based congregations. Occasionally, a mainstream media outlet will highlight the impressive work of a local grassroots organizing group — such as Greenhouse’s recent profile of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and stories by the Washington Post’s Dina ElBoghdady and the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Light about the growing success of a network of local community groups to pressure banks and Fannie Mae to halt foreclosures and instead renegotiate loans with “underwater” homeowners. But organizers know that if they want to get their campaigns and issues in the news, they usually have disrupt business-as-usual, because otherwise they are invisible to the vast majority of reporters and columnists.

Activists in the environmental, immigrant rights, community organizer and labor movements had hoped that Obama would use the growing network of grassroots organizers to his advantage. They figured that he would understand that protest in the streets, workplaces and neighborhoods would make it easier for the president to achieve his liberal policy agenda. They wanted Obama to follow the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who recognized that his ability to push New Deal legislation through Congress depended on the pressure generated by protesters — workers, World War I veterans, the jobless, the homeless and farmers — even though he didn’t always welcome it. They thought that Obama would learn the lessons that Lyndon Johnson learned in the 1960s, when the willingness of civil rights activists to put their bodies on the line against fists and fire hoses shifted public opinion and transformed LBJ from a reluctant advocate to a powerful ally, joining forces with Rev. Martin Luther King and others to get Congress to pass his Great Society plans, such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

But Obama seemed to abandon his affinity for organizing soon after he entered the White House. He tried to be a consensus-builder, eschewing conflict, even with those in Congress and in corporate boardrooms who pledged not only to defeat his policy agenda but also to undermine his legitimacy as president.

The battle over health care reform in 2009 and 2010 reflected Obama’s ambivalence toward disruptive activism. At first, White House staffers discouraged Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a coalition of labor, consumer and community groups, from mobilizing protests, worried that it would alienate moderate Democrats who had close ties to the drug and insurance industries. But when it appeared that Obama’s signature legislative initiative was going down to embarrassing defeat — due to the rise of the tea party movement and the insurance industry’s unwillingness to broker a deal — Obama undertook a cross-country speaking tour to energize voters to pressure Congress members to vote for reform.

“Let’s seize reform. It’s within our grasp,” Obama implored his audience at Arcadia University outside Philadelphia. He denounced the insurance companies, which “continue to ration care on the basis of who’s sick and who’s healthy.” Forgoing the bipartisan rhetoric that for months had frustrated activists, Obama taunted Republican critics who have stymied reform: “You had 10 years. What happened? What were you doing?”

“I’m kind of fired up,” Obama continued, repeating a phrase he used in his campaign. Then he again appealed for help. “So I need you to knock on doors. Talk to your neighbors. Pick up the phone,” he said.

While Obama was firing up audiences, HCAN — with the White House’s quiet support — organized protests at the offices of leading insurance companies, and even at the homes of top industry executives. The group mounted more than 200 increasingly feisty protest events in 46 states.

It represented an escalation in HCAN’s efforts to spotlight the industry’s outrageous profits, abuse of consumers and outsized political influence. HCAN publicly warned Democrats not to get duped by the industry’s pledges of cooperation, echoing the old union song, “which side are you on? The industry or consumers?” The protests and media attention emboldened the Obama House to treat the industry as a target rather than an ally, reflected in his increasingly aggressive speeches critical of the insurance giants. Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, although he failed to give HCAN the credit it deserved for salvaging health care reform.

Today’s organizers have mostly been disappointed that Obama has been reluctant to play this “inside/outside” game. Instead, he has often been the target of protests by progressive movements, such as the crusade to stop the Keystone Pipeline and the battle to pass immigrant reform. On both issues, however, these movements have influenced and shifted Obama’s stance. He has indicated his willingness to stop the oil pipeline and he recently issues an executive order protecting at least 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Although he’s been unable to push Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, he recently took the labor movement’s advice to use his executive authority to increase wages for employees of private companies that have federal government contracts.

Every so often, however, Obama seems to remember his activist background and uses it to encourage a new generation to organize for change.

“I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a global leader in the fight against climate change,” Obama told students at Georgetown University in June of last year, during a speech announcing his proposal to cut pollution from power plants, expand renewable energy development on public lands and support climate-resilient investments. Noting that big corporations will resist calls to reduce their unhealthy practices, Obama urged the students to “Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”

The word “divest” was like a dog whistle to campus activists who’ve been pushing their colleges and universities to rid their endowments of stock in companies that are part of the fossil fuel industry. It looked like the former community organizer was embracing the movement to dump stock holdings in order to compel corporations to be more socially responsible?

“‘Invest, divest’ is the most crypto-radical line the president has ever uttered,” tweeted Chris Hayes, host of a news show on MSNBC.

“President Obama’s shout-out to the fossil fuel divestment movement is a huge endorsement for the students on over 300 campuses across the country who are running this campaign,” said Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, a key advocacy group for campus divestment. “If the US president supports divestment, surely university presidents should do the same. My Twitter feed absolutely lit up with students tweeting the news, people are pumped.”

Two days later, while visiting Senegal, Obama recalled his first foray into activism.

“My first act of political activism was when I was at Occidental College. As a 19-year-old, I got involved in the anti-apartheid movement back in 1979, 1980, because I was inspired by what was taking place in South Africa.”

Now, another protest movement against racist injustice — triggered by the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the failure of the criminal justice to indict their killers — has propelled Obama to recall his community organizing roots.

The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.

 

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

“Moral March” Poses Big Questions for Progressives

 

by Ira Chernus, Common Dreams, February 11, 2014  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/02/11-0

Nearly 100,000 people took to the streets in Raleigh, North Carolina on February 8 in a Moral March to say “NO” to the state’s sharp right-wing political turn and “YES” to a new, truly progressive America.

They weren’t just marching for one issue or another. They were marching for every issue progressives care about: economic justice; a living wage for every worker; support for organized labor; justice in banking and lending; high quality, well-funded, diverse public schools; affordable health care and health insurance for all, especially women; environmental justice and green jobs; affordable housing for every person; abolishing the death penalty and mandatory sentencing; expanded services for released prisoners; comprehensive immigration reform to provide immigrants with health care, education, and workers rights; insuring everyone the right to vote; enhancing LGBT rights; keeping America’s young men and women out of wars on foreign soil; and more.

All this in Raleigh, a metro area of barely more than a million people. It’s as if a million and half turned out in New York or DC, or a million in San Francisco. When was the last time we saw such huge crowds in the streets demanding a total transformation in our way of life? This could be the start of something big.

And it was all led by . . . God?

Many of the marchers would say so. Many others would doubt it. The march organizers invited “secular and religious progressives alike,” people of every faith and no faith at all. And that’s what they got. “The march brought together a diverse group from Baptists to Muslims and gay marriage supporters,” as USA Today reported.

But no one doubts that it was all started by a man of faith, the Rev. William Barber.

“We will become the ‘trumpet of conscience’ that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called upon us to be, echoing the God of our mothers and fathers in the faith,” the Disciples of Christ minister told the huge crowd, exhorting them to “plant America on higher ground.” Then he prayed: “Lord, Lord plant our minds on higher ground. Plant our hearts on higher ground. Plant our souls on higher ground. Lord, lift us up, lift us up, lift us up and let us stand. Plant our feet on higher ground.”

The night before the march he led what a local TV station called “a spiritual pep rally” the Abundant Life Christian Center, designed (the organizers said) to prepare the marchers “by spiritually invoking … love, peace, and a source of power beyond what can be seen with our eyes or calculated with our minds.”

Those organizers, many of them clergy and religious leaders, are well aware that “some secular progressives object to the use of this kind of language because of its religious overtones. … Sure, Barber prays in public, uses church language and premises many of his beliefs and arguments on his understanding of the teachings of his faith — he’s a preacher for Pete’s sake! But his policy messages, his organization and his objectives are thoroughly secular and open to all, whatever their beliefs or lack thereof when it comes to religion.”

It’s not surprising that his politics would be thoroughly secular. He’s got a BA in political science and a PH.D. in public policy as well as pastoral care. He’s proving himself to be a shrewd, hard-headed organizer and political tactician. 100,000 progressives don’t just appear out of nowhere.

In fact, the Moral March was initiated by the “Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Assembly Coalition,” started by Barber and other religious leaders back in 2007. It took plenty of hope and faith to believe that within just seven years a small group could swell to such a huge crowd.

But building this mass movement also took political smarts. And HKonJ has shown plenty of smarts, especially at the North Carolina state house. They played an important role in passage of a Racial Justice Act, obtaining Same Day Voting; winning workers the right to unionize; getting a former Democratic governor to veto Voter I.D. Laws, an unfair budget, and repeal of a Racial Justice Act.

In 2013, as a Republican governor and legislature moved their state ever further rightward, Barber and his allies stepped up the action. They began weekly sit-ins at the state capitol on “Moral Mondays,” which eventually saw just short of a thousand people arrested.

“Clergy were especially prominent” in those actions, the Washington Post reported. Local Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United Methodist leaders issued a joint statement supporting the action: “It is a matter of faith with respect to our understanding of the biblical teachings and imperatives to protect the poor, respect the stranger, care for widows and children and love our neighbors.”

Now Rev. Barber sees this potent mix of faith and progressive politics as a model for resistance across the country: “We must reduce fear through public education, through the streets, through the courts and through the electoral campaigns.” 

“If you are going to change America you have to think states,” he says. “We believe North Carolina is the crucible. If you’re going to change the country, you’ve got to change the South. If you’re going to change the South, you’ve got to focus on these state capitols.” Spin-offs of the Moral Monday movement are already starting up in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

And you’ve got to change state politics at the county level, Barber advises. So he and his group are launching “North Carolina Moral Freedom Summer,” a statewide registration and mobilization effort for voters in all 100 counties of North Carolina.

But that’s just part of a larger program that also includes voter education, a social media strategy, and a legal strategy. “Many of these things, not just the voting rules, are going to be challenged in the courts using our state and federal constitutions,” Barber promises. That’s a lot of smart strategic thinking. 

As far as he is concerned, though, there’s no way to separate smart politics from devout faith. He takes his inspiration equally from the Constitution, where he finds deep values to promote “the common good,” and from the Bible, which he sees teaching that love and justice should be at the center of public policy: “Isaiah 10 says, ‘Woe unto those who make unjust laws that rob the right of the poor.’”

“Clergypersons are choosing to move in a prophetic tradition to challenge injustice and wrongs in government and systemic transgressions against our values,” Barber explains. “It’s our Jewish friends, Christian, Universalist, Muslim friends and others who are willing to put their voices and bodies on the line. That is significant when pulpits get on fire for justice.”

And wherever he goes, his “thundery oratory” will be filled “with biblical references to Pharaoh, Goliath, good and evil,” as ReligionNews reports

“Good and evil.” That’s the key to the power of this new movement. It has gone beyond single-issue politics by find the common thread tying all progressive issue together, the thread spotlighted in the name of  their action: The “Moral” March.

In North Carolina they understand what George Lakoff has been telling us for years. The left is losing the political argument by sticking to specific issues and factual evidence. Conservatives are winning because they “speak from an authentic moral position, and appeal to voters’ values.” So progressives “have to go up a level, to the moral level” and start dealing publicly “very seriously and very quickly with the unity of their own philosophy and with morality.” Otherwise “they will not merely continue to lose elections but will as well bear responsibility for the success of conservatives in turning back the clock of progress in America.”  

In North Carolina they are talking very seriously about morality, saying out loud that the same moral foundations undergird all progressive policies.

And they’ve discovered the power of that word “moral” to unite religious progressives with secular progressives, who elsewhere are so often scared off by any talk of God and Jesus and the Bible. 

The HKonJ organizers understand this very well. As their website says, they intentionally highlight the word “moral,” even though some secular progressives object to the use of this kind of language because of its religious overtones. It sounds too much like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. But of course by that logic, progressives couldn’t use words like “liberty” or “freedom” either. After all, both of those words have also been monopolized by the far right in recent years. Indeed, there’s a strong argument to be made that progressives have too often shied away from the use of such overarching language — thus ceding it without a fight to the right. Put simply, there is nothing inherently religious in the word “moral”; it is a powerful and important word that’s plenty big enough to be of great use and profound meaning to secular and religious progressives alike.

Those nearly 100,00 Moral Marchers in Raleigh pose crucial questions to progressives across America: Are we ready to move beyond our own issues to join a unified, strategically savvy progressive movement encompassing every issue? And are we willing to do what it takes for that movement to succeed: to drop our suspicion of religion, to lift up the word “moral” as a bridge across the religious-secular divide, to judge religious progressives by the content of their policies and not the color of their vocabulary?

If enough progressives answer “yes,” this could indeed be the start of something big.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Mythic America: Essays and American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. He blogs at MythicAmerica.us.

more Ira Chernus


Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/02/11-0

 

 

 

Progressive movement and transformation

The reemergence of a Democratic left will be one of the major stories of 2014. Moderates, don’t be alarmed. The return of a viable, vocal left will actually be good news for the political center. For a long time, the American conversation has been terribly distorted because an active, uncompromising political right has not had to face a comparably influential left. As a result, our entire debate has been dragged in a conservative direction, meaning that the center has been pulled that way, too…the new militancy on the Democratic left is a consequence of a slowly building backlash against the skewed nature of our politics… the Democratic left is animated by the battle against growing inequality and declining social mobility — the idea, as [Senator Elizabeth] Warren … her allies are not anti-capitalist. Their goal is to reform the system so it spreads its benefits more widely…And here’s why moderates should be cheering them on: When politicians can ignore the questions posed by the left and are pushed to focus almost exclusively on the right’s concerns about “big government” and its unquestioning faith in deregulated markets, the result is immoderate and ultimately impractical policy. To create a real center, you need a real left. The resurgent progressives By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, January 1, 2014

Collective imagination emerges when people find strength in collective organizations, when they find strength in each other. Justice is never done. It’s an endless struggle. And there’s joy in that struggle, because there’s a sense of solidarity that brings us together around the most basic, most elemental and the most important of democratic values.” Henry Giroux Being interview by Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company, November 22, 2013

…if we take seriously the basic moral principles at the core of modern philosophical and theological systems we claim to believe in, in light of the data on social injustice and the serious threats to ecological sustainability, these questions should be central in the work of intellectuals…intellectuals…help us deepen our understanding of how the world works, toward the goal of shaping a world more consistent with our moral and political principles, and our collective self-interest. What are the forces that keep people, especially relatively privileged people, mute in the face of such a clear need for critical intellectual work? …I suspect that a desire to be accepted by peers is at least as powerful a motivation for intellectuals to accept the status quo. Humans are social animals who generally seek a safe and secure place in a social group, and there’s no reason intellectuals would be different.… When one’s professional cohort works within the worldview that the wealthy and powerful construct, the boundaries of that world seem appropriate. Curiosity about what lies beyond those boundaries tends to atrophy. Those forces have been in play for a long time, but another potentially crucial factor is the way in which confronting the reality of injustice and unsustainability can be morally and psychologically overwhelming for anyone…Intellectuals are in the business of assessing problems and offering solutions…to be a responsible intellectual is to be willing to get apocalyptic, and the first step in that process is to give up on the myth of neutrality. Intellectuals shouldn’t claim to be neutral, and the public shouldn’t take such claims seriously. American Intellectuals’ Widespread Failure to Stand Up to Billionaires and Authoritarian Power By Robert Jensen, AlterNet, July 5, 2013 

…We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living world… A deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work…to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values…we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability…Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous…To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm life…By avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability. Get Apocalyptic — The Case for the New Radical By Robert Jensen 

…Reality does shift, not merely on its own but as a result of determined minorities who learn how to use the lever of social action…Now is the time to choose our future… This means thinking big: embracing a vision so enormous it overflows our sense of the possible…The lever, [Judith Hand] says, is “people power”: the strategy and tactics of nonviolent action of all sorts. The fulcrum is any weak spot in the existing power structure, any shameful but unchallenged absurdity of power (e.g., segregated lunch counters, the British salt tax). The weight put on the lever to dislodge the fulcrum could, perhaps, be called applied moral authority… The Lever of Social Action by Robert C. Koehler

Can National Grassroots Push Depose the ‘Billion Dollar Democracy’? 

Chris Hayes: Bring on the upper-middle-class revolution!

Popular Resistance Is Percolating Across the Country — Inspiring Activism That the Corporate Media Always Ignores

We Can’t Give in to the Culture of Fear and Apathy — Channel Your Discontent into Positive Action

Transformation

“What is missing I think from the equation in our struggle today is that we must unleash radical thought. … America has never been moved to perfect our desire for greater democracy without radical thinking and radical voices being at the helm of any such a quest.” Harry Belafonte

…the role of art is transcendence. It’s about dealing with what we call the nonrational forces in human life, those forces that are absolutely essential to being whole as a human being but are not quantifiable… I don’t think it’s accidental that the origins of all religions are always fused with art, with poetry, with music. Because you’re dealing with a transcendence or a reality that is beyond articulation. And for those of us who seek to rise up against this monstrous evil, culture is going to be as important as the more prosaic elements of resistance such as a food tent, or a medical tent or a communications tent…that has just been true throughout history… the great religious writers, the great philosophers, the great artists, the great novelists, the great musicians, dancers, that’s what they struggle to honor and to sustain. And we, who are in essence when we really talk about it, engaged in a spiritual battle against forces of death, corporate forces are forces of death. We are fighting for life and we are going to need those transcendent disciplines that remind us of who we are, why we’re struggling, and what life finally is about. Chris Hedges on the Role of Art in Rebellion, Truthdig.com, Nov 27, 2013

The Big Theories Underwriting Society Are Crashing All Around Us — Are You Ready for a New World?

posted on January 30, 2014

If Only Right-Wing Christians Knew Where Their Ideas Came From

by Ira Chernus, AlterNet, November 12, 2013

mini-excerpts

Right wing political landscape

The media spotlight has focused on the growing split in the Republican Party between its corporate-business wing and the libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers. But what about the third leg of the GOP tripod…the evangelical Christian religious right?…what will determine the fate of the GOP, is which way the religious right will break in this intramural fight over the role of government…the split in the GOP runs smack down the middle of the religious right…Tea Partiers align with the libertarian call for smaller government. They see government as a force imposing its secular ways upon them…Many other evangelicals will join the corporate-business Republicans in rejecting the Tea Party’s extremist anti-government agenda. They’ll see why Tea Partying is a trap for them. Only a powerful government can do the things evangelicals want most, like banning abortion and gay marriage, and more generally, imposing strict rules of personal behavior on every American.

History

What most won’t see, though, is the hidden place where evangelicals and libertarians do meet: way back in U.S. history, where both movements were inspired by a radical worldview. Just as the libertarian call for less government has its roots in radical, not conservative, assumptions about human nature, so the religious right’s call for government intervention has deep roots in evangelical demands for policies that were radically progressive at the time. Some of them are still radical, even by today’s standards…use government to achieve their goals—goals that today’s progressives still struggle for, like a fair and just income tax structure, guaranteed equal pay for women, and government ownership of utilities and transportation systems…Populists. Their program was laid out most famously in the 1892 declaration of the People’s Party, which demanded that government support the interest of “the people,” not “capitalists, corporations, banks, trusts.”…the main weapon Populists aimed to use was political power—enough power to make sure that their policies were enacted through government legislation, regulation, and strict enforcement…The Knights of Labor, the Populists, and the Bryanites [William Jennings Bryan] were in many ways the forerunner of today’s progressive left. Their fusion of evangelical Christianity and strong progressive government holds lessons for, and poses questions to, progressives today.

Progressive movement – strategy

The Republican Party may or may not be cracking up. Cracks in the GOP alliance don’t necessarily mean any advantage for progressives, of course. But they are windows of opportunity, if the left knows how to take advantage of them. It’s all a question of strategy. A smart first step for progressives is to do whatever we can to widen those cracks. It’s the religious right, long the progressive left’s favorite target, that is now the richest target of opportunity. Because politically progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century. It’s making a comeback. That presents left progressives with a challenge. In your struggle for justice, would you ally with people who share your commitment to greater economic equality but would like to see government ban abortion and gay marriage? Today the question may seem abstract and hypothetical. Soon enough it may become a very real issue of debate for progressive strategists, and there are bound to be good arguments on both sides.

Communications/message

However, everyone should be able to agree that at least progressives outside the evangelical community should begin talking to folks inside that circle who are open to hearing the progressive message. Evangelicals will have to filter the message through their own beliefs, which means phrasing it in a somewhat different language…The main goal here should be to make the progressive tent wide enough to make room for evangelicals…moving evangelicals to the left will also widen the cracks in the shaky conservative alliance and hasten the day when it can no longer hold itself together.

Full Excerpt

The media spotlight has focused on the growing split in the Republican Party between its corporate-business wing and the libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers. But what about the third leg of the GOP tripod, the one that used to get all the attention: the evangelical Christian religious right? That’s where the spotlight ought to be…

We know the corporate-business types want an active federal government, because it can be counted on to serve their interests, especially if Republicans regain control of it. We know that the libertarians, who are the driving force in the Tea Party, want to shrink government; that’s their whole reason for being.

What we don’t know yet, and what will determine the fate of the GOP, is which way the religious right will break in this intramural fight over the role of government. Even the conservative evangelicals themselves don’t know, because the split in the GOP runs smack down the middle of the religious right.

Many politically active evangelicals are happy to be Tea Partiers [3] and align with the libertarian call for smaller government. They see government as a force imposing its secular ways upon them…Many other evangelicals will join the corporate-business Republicans in rejecting the Tea Party’s extremist anti-government agenda. They’ll see why Tea Partying is a trap for them. Only a powerful government can do the things evangelicals want most, like banning abortion and gay marriage, and more generally, imposing strict rules of personal behavior on every American.

What most won’t see, though, is the hidden place where evangelicals and libertarians do meet: way back in U.S. history, where both movements were inspired by a radical worldview. Just as the libertarian call for less government has its roots in radical, not conservative, assumptions about human nature, so the religious right’s call for government intervention has deep roots in evangelical demands for policies that were radically progressive at the time. Some of them are still radical, even by today’s standards…use government to achieve their goals—goals that today’s progressives still struggle for, like a fair and just income tax structure, guaranteed equal pay for women, and government ownership of utilities and transportation systems…Populists. Their program was laid out most famously in the 1892 declaration of the People’s Party, which demanded that government support the interest of “the people,” not “capitalists, corporations, banks, trusts.”…the main weapon Populists aimed to use was political power—enough power to make sure that their policies were enacted through government legislation, regulation, and strict enforcement…The Knights of Labor, the Populists, and the Bryanites [William Jennings Bryan] were in many ways the forerunner of today’s progressive left. Their fusion of evangelical Christianity and strong progressive government holds lessons for, and poses questions to, progressives today.

The Republican Party may or may not be cracking up. Cracks in the GOP alliance don’t necessarily mean any advantage for progressives, of course. But they are windows of opportunity, if the left knows how to take advantage of them. It’s all a question of strategy.

A smart first step for progressives is to do whatever we can to widen those cracks. It’s the religious right, long the progressive left’s favorite target, that is now the richest target of opportunity. Because politically progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century. It’s making a comeback [7].

That presents left progressives with a challenge. In your struggle for justice, would you ally with people who share your commitment to greater economic equality but would like to see government ban abortion and gay marriage? Today the question may seem abstract and hypothetical. Soon enough it may become a very real issue of debate for progressive strategists, and there are bound to be good arguments on both sides.

However, everyone should be able to agree that at least progressives outside the evangelical community should begin talking to folks inside that circle who are open to hearing the progressive message. Evangelicals will have to filter the message through their own beliefs, which means phrasing it in a somewhat different language.

Smart progressives will start learning that language, figuring out how to communicate with evangelicals and discover common ground. Smart progressives will also learn how to remind evangelicals, gently but persuasively, of their own radical political history, which many may not know.

The main goal here should be to make the progressive tent wide enough to make room for evangelicals. Though we are far from the 19th century, evangelicals can now, as then, bring a unique kind of energy into progressive movements that can pay off. As a side benefit, moving evangelicals to the left will also widen the cracks in the shaky conservative alliance and hasten the day when it can no longer hold itself together.       

Full text

The media spotlight has focused on the growing split in the Republican Party between its corporate-business wing and the libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers. But what about the third leg of the GOP tripod, the one that used to get all the attention: the evangelical Christian religious right? That’s where the spotlight ought to be.

We know the corporate-business types want an active federal government, because it can be counted on to serve their interests, especially if Republicans regain control of it. We know that the libertarians, who are the driving force in the Tea Party, want to shrink government; that’s their whole reason for being.

What we don’t know yet, and what will determine the fate of the GOP, is which way the religious right will break in this intramural fight over the role of government. Even the conservative evangelicals themselves don’t know, because the split in the GOP runs smack down the middle of the religious right.

Many politically active evangelicals are happy to be Tea Partiers [3] and align with the libertarian call for smaller government. They see government as a force imposing its secular ways upon them. And Tea Party politicians have been equally happy to talk the religious right talk because it wins them votes.

Many other evangelicals will join the corporate-business Republicans in rejecting the Tea Party’s extremist anti-government agenda. They’ll see why Tea Partying is a trap for them. Only a powerful government can do the things evangelicals want most, like banning abortion and gay marriage, and more generally, imposing strict rules of personal behavior on every American. The more the Tea Party weakens the government, the more it deprives the religious right of its most potent tool. That should be easy enough for most conservative evangelicals to see.

What most won’t see, though, is the hidden place where evangelicals and libertarians do meet: way back in U.S. history, where both movements were inspired by a radical worldview. Just as the libertarian call for less government has its roots in radical [4], not conservative, assumptions about human nature, so the religious right’s call for government intervention has deep roots in evangelical demands for policies that were radically progressive at the time. Some of them are still radical, even by today’s standards.  

As early as the 1820s, the evangelical style of Christianity was beginning to dominate American political life. It didn’t stop dominating until the 19th century was over.

Looking back across the history of that century you’ll find evangelicals, demanding strong government intervention in everyone’s life, popping up in all sorts of places. And most of those places are well to the left of where you might expect them, if your view of evangelical politics is shaped only by the era of Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell.

Most famously, evangelical Christians led and filled the ranks of the movement to abolish slavery. Some (though far too few) even took the lead in treating African Americans as genuine equals. The best recent writing on the causes of the Civil War shows that evangelicalism was a crucial factor creating widespread popular resistance to the “peculiar institution.”

Without the spur of evangelical fervor there probably would have been no Republican Party, no President Lincoln, and no secession of the South. Slavery would not only have continued in the United States; it probably would have spread throughout the territories that became the new states of the Southwest, making it that much harder ever to abolish.

Antebellum evangelical reformers also took the lead in demanding that government provide free public education for all, more humane treatment of prisoners and the disabled, and more equality for women. Of course, most of their specific policy prescriptions seem too conservative by today’s progressive standards. But in their own day they were out on the cutting left edge of political life. And one of their demands—that government renounce war as an instrument of national policy—still sounds as radical as ever.

You’ll find all of these examples, and more, if you pick up any good book on 19th-century U.S. history.

I picked up one such book at random, just as I was beginning to write this column: Alan Trachtenberg’s The Incorporation of America [5], one of the most insightful histories of the Gilded Age, from the 1870s to the 1890s. When historians go looking for evangelicals supporting left-leaning government policies, they almost always look at the era of reform before the Civil War, not the Gilded Age that followed it. Yet just thumbing through Trachtenberg’s book I easily found evidence that the pattern lasted right through the 19th century.

Trachtenberg points out the powerful evangelical impulse in two of the era’s greatest political bestsellers, Henry George’s Progress and Poverty and Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. George wrote glowingly of “the noble dreams of socialism.” Bellamy advocated “the religion of solidarity… a system of public ownership… to realize the idea of the nation … as a family, a vital union, a common life.”

Both denounced the injustices of the emerging corporate system with “evangelical fervor,” says Trachtenberg, sustained by “religious emotions of ‘solidarity.’”

But there was more going on than just utopian words. There were workers organizing in the factories and the streets, dominated in the 1870s and 1880s by the Knights of Labor. The Knights intended to use government to achieve their goals—goals that today’s progressives still struggle for, like a fair and just income tax structure, guaranteed equal pay for women, and government ownership of utilities and transportation systems.

And they built their movement upon “an unmistakable fusion of republicanism and evangelical Protestantism,” in Trachtenberg’s words. “Workers found in Protestantism a profound ‘notion of right’ for their struggles.” They made “’the religion of solidarity’ proclaimed by Edward Bellamy and other Protestant reformers … a living experience within labor.” Obviously they saw no conflict between evangelical Christianity and a strong central government enforcing laws to create economic justice.

By the 1890s the Knights’ leading role in labor movement had been eclipsed by the American Federation of Labor. But as the Knights declined, the spirit that moved them was being picked up by an eclectic mix of movements that came to be grouped under the umbrella term, Populists. Their program was laid out most famously in the 1892 declaration of the People’s Party, which demanded that government support the interest of “the people,” not “capitalists, corporations, banks, trusts.”

That declaration was “composed in evangelical accents” and “rang with echoes of revivalism” as well as “backwoods democracy and grassroots outrage,” as Trachtenberg writes. “Populist spokesmen clothed themselves in the garb of righteous evangels.”

Like the Knights, the Populists were on a crusade to eliminate sin. But their political ideas also “drew from the movement’s roots in native radicalism, in a secular rhetoric of ‘equal rights’ and ‘anti-monopoly.’” And the main weapon Populists aimed to use was political power—enough power to make sure that their policies were enacted through government legislation, regulation, and strict enforcement.

Like most historians, Trachtenberg traces the decline of the Populists to their fateful decision, in1896, to join with the Democrats in making William Jennings Bryan their joint candidate for president. Bryan ran three times for the top job and lost all three times. Today, on the left, he’s most remembered as the evangelical Christian zealot who decried the teaching of evolution in the 1924 Scopes trial. But the infamous trial came near the end of his long life.

For most of that life he, more than any other American, carried the banner of radical reform in the name of God. It’s worth reading the details in Michael Kazin’s recent biography of Bryan [6]. Kazin, a leading authority on Populism and an important progressive intellectual in his own right, makes it clear that in the late 19th century, and on into the early 20th, millions of evangelical Protestants saw it as a religious duty to demand that a strong government right the economic wrongs of the corporate capitalist system. The left in that era could not have emerged as a significant force without the tremendous boost it got from evangelical faith.

All this history should be more than mere curiosity to us. The Knights of Labor, the Populists, and the Bryanites were in many ways the forerunner of today’s progressive left. Their fusion of evangelical Christianity and strong progressive government holds lessons for, and poses questions to, progressives today.

The Republican Party may or may not be cracking up. Cracks in the GOP alliance don’t necessarily mean any advantage for progressives, of course. But they are windows of opportunity, if the left knows how to take advantage of them. It’s all a question of strategy.

A smart first step for progressives is to do whatever we can to widen those cracks. It’s the religious right, long the progressive left’s favorite target, that is now the richest target of opportunity. Because politically progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century. It’s making a comeback [7].

That presents left progressives with a challenge. In your struggle for justice, would you ally with people who share your commitment to greater economic equality but would like to see government ban abortion and gay marriage? Today the question may seem abstract and hypothetical. Soon enough it may become a very real issue of debate for progressive strategists, and there are bound to be good arguments on both sides.

However, everyone should be able to agree that at least progressives outside the evangelical community should begin talking to folks inside that circle who are open to hearing the progressive message. Evangelicals will have to filter the message through their own beliefs, which means phrasing it in a somewhat different language.

Smart progressives will start learning that language, figuring out how to communicate with evangelicals and discover common ground. Smart progressives will also learn how to remind evangelicals, gently but persuasively, of their own radical political history, which many may not know.

The main goal here should be to make the progressive tent wide enough to make room for evangelicals. Though we are far from the 19th century, evangelicals can now, as then, bring a unique kind of energy into progressive movements that can pay off. As a side benefit, moving evangelicals to the left will also widen the cracks in the shaky conservative alliance and hasten the day when it can no longer hold itself together.    

See more stories tagged with:

gop [8],

republican party [9],

libertarian [10],

christian [11],

evangelical [12],

religious [13],

right-wing [14],

tea party [15]


Source URL: http://admin.alternet.org/belief/if-only-right-wing-christian-evangelicals-knew-where-their-ideas-came

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://admin.alternet.org/authors/ira-chernus
[3] http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/just-enough-city/2013/apr/22/how-religious-right-and-libertarians-buried-hatche/
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/if-only-tea-party-crowd-knew-where-their-ideas-came
[5] http://us.macmillan.com/theincorporationofamerica/AlanTrachtenberg
[6] http://www.randomhouse.com/book/90625/a-godly-hero-by-michael-kazin
[7] http://www.christianpost.com/news/author-new-evangelical-left-pushing-bounds-of-christianity-49287/
[8] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/gop
[9] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[10] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/libertarian-0
[11] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/christian-0
[12] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/evangelical
[13] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/religious
[14] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/right-wing
[15] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/tea-party-0
[16] http://admin.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

We Live in an Era of Zombie Politics

Bill Moyers Interviews Henry Giroux, Moyers & Company, November 22, 2013

Excerpt

In his book, Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism, author and scholar Henry Giroux connects the dots to prove his theory that our current system is informed by a “machinery of social and civil death” that chills “any vestige of a robust democracy.” Giroux explains that such a machine produces “people who are basically so caught up with surviving that they become like the walking dead—they lose their sense of agency, they lose their homes, they lose their jobs.” What’s more, Giroux points out, the system that creates this vacuum has little to do with expanding the meaning and the substance of democracy itself. Under “casino capitalism,” the goal is to get a quick return, taking advantage of a kind of logic in which the only thing that drives us is to put as much money as we can into a slot machine and hope we walk out with our wallets overflowing…

Full transcript of the interview with Giroux below the video:

Moyers: …Talk about “connecting the dots.” Read this, and the headlines of the day will, I think, arrange themselves differently in your head, threading together ideas and experiences to reveal a pattern...

GIROUX: Well, for me democracy is too important to allow it to be undermined in a way in which every vital institution that matters from the political process to the schools to the inequalities that, to the money being put into politics..what we haven’t gotten yet is that it should be accompanied by a crisis of ideas, that the stories that are being told about democracy are really about the swindle of fulfillment…You have a consolidation of power that is so overwhelming, not just in its ability to control resources and drive the economy and redistribute wealth upward, but basically to provide the most fraudulent definition of what a democracy should be. The notion that profit making is the essence of democracy, the notion that economics is divorced from ethics, the notion that the only obligation of citizenship is consumerism, the notion that the welfare state is a pathology, that any form of dependency basically is disreputable and needs to be attackedThe biggest lie of all is that capitalism is democracy. We have no way of understanding democracy outside of the market, just as we have no understanding of how to understand freedom outside of market values. freedom, which is essential to any notion of democracy, now becomes nothing more than a matter of pursuing your own self interests. No society can survive under those conditions.,,I have in mind a society in which the wealth is shared, in which there is a mesh of organizations that are grounded in the social contract, that takes seriously the mutual obligations that people have to each other…A citizen is a political and moral agent who in fact has a shared sense of hope and responsibility to others and not just to him or herself...How could people who allegedly believe in democracy and the American Congress cut $40 billion from a food stamp program, half of which those food stamps go to children?“The ideology of hardness and cruelty runs through American culture like an electric current…”it seems to me that there has to be a point where you have to say, “No, this has to stop.” We can’t allow ourselves to be driven by those lies anymore. We can’t allow those who are rich, who are privileged, who are entitled, who accumulate wealth to simply engage in a flight from social and moral and political responsibility by blaming the people who are victimized by those policies as the source of those problems… If somebody had to say to me, “What exactly is new that we haven’t seen before?” And I think that what we haven’t seen before is an attack on the social contract, Bill, that is so overwhelming, so dangerous in the way in which its being deconstructed and being disassembled that you now have as a classic example, you have a whole generation of young people who are now seen as disposable…

 

Example being that the young people can’t turn anywhere without in some way being told that the only obligation of citizenship is to shop, is to be a consumer... All of those things that speak to educating the imagination, to stretching it, the giving kids the knowledge, a sense of the traditions, the archives to take risks, to learn about the world, they’re disappearing…the zombie metaphor is a way to sort of suggest that democracy is losing its oxygen, you know, it’s losing its vitality, that we have a politics that really is about the organization of the production of violence. It’s losing its soul. It’s losing its spirit. It’s losing its ability to speak to itself in ways that would span the human spirit and the human possibility for justice and equality.

…This casino capitalism as we talk about it, right, one of the things that it does that hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t just believe it can control the economy. It believes that it can govern all of social life. That’s different…


 

BILL MOYERS: Well, George Monbiot, who writes for theGuardian, wrote just the other day, “It’s business that really rules us.” And he says, “So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics … When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political funding system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians of the main … parties stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of the system that inspires us to participate?”

 

that’s the central question for the American public…that question has to address something fundamental and that is what we have, while we have an economic system that in fact has caused a crisis in democracy. What we haven’t addressed is the underlying consensus that informs that crisis. What you have is basically a transgression against the very basic ideals of democracy. We have lost what it means to be connected to democracy.

And I think that’s coupled with a cultural apparatus, a culture, an educative culture, a mode of politics in which people now have gone through this for so long that it’s become normalized. I mean, it’s hard to imagine life beyond capitalism. You know, it’s easier to imagine the death of the planet than it is to imagine the death of capitalism…. the issue is in a system that is entirely broken. It’s broken…

we have to ask ourselves what kind of formative culture needs to be put in place in which education becomes central to politics, in which politics can be used to help people to be able to see things differently, to get beyond this system that is so closed, so powerfully normalized.

I mean, the right since the 1970s has created a massive cultural apparatus, a slew of anti-public intellectuals. They’ve invaded the universities with think tanks. They have foundations. They have all kinds of money. And you know, it’s interesting, the war they wage is a war on the mind.

The war on what it means to be able to dissent, the war on the possibility of alternative visions. And the left really has— and progressives and liberals, we have nothing like that. I mean, we always seem to believe that all you have to do is tell the truthWe’re forgetting the past. We’re forgetting all those struggles that in fact offered a different story about the United States….

So what we do is we collapse education into training, and we end up suggesting that not knowing much is somehow a virtue…

Rick Santorum says, the last thing we need in the Republican party are intellectuals. And I think it’s kind of a template for the sort of idiocy that increasingly now dominates our culture…

Intellectuals are people who take pride in ideas. They work with ideas…they believe that ideas matter. They believe that there’s no such thing as common sense, good sense or bad sense, but reflective sense.

 

 

how we learn what we learn and what we do with the knowledge that we have is not just for ourselves. It’s for the way in which we can expand and deepen the very processes of democracy in general, and address those problems and anti-democratic forces that work against it….I’ve always felt that in the face of the worst tyrannies, people resist.

They’re resisting now all over the world. And it seems to me history is open

We have to acknowledge the realities that bear down on us, but it seems to me that if we really want to live in a world and be alive with compassion and justice, then we need educated hope. We need a hope that recognizes the problems and doesn’t romanticize them, and also recognizes the need for vision, for social organizations, for strategies. We need institutions that provide the formative culture that give voice to those visions and those ideas… what would it mean to begin to do at least two things?…develop cultural apparatuses that can offer a new vocabulary for people, where questions of freedom and justice and the problems that we’re facing can be analyzed in ways that reach mass audiences in accessible language. We have to build a formative culture. We have to do that. Secondly, we’ve got to overcome the fractured nature of these movements. I mean the thing that plagues me about progressives in the left and liberals is they are all sort of ensconced in these fragmented movements that seem to suggest those movements constitute the totality of the system of oppression that we are facing. And they don’t… you need a different vocabulary and a different understanding of politics. Look, the right has one thing going for it that nobody wants to talk about. Power is global. And politics is local. They float. They have no allegiance to anyone. They don’t care about the social contract….The one percent…They’re so savage because there’s nothing to give up. They don’t have to compromise. The power is so arrogant, so over the top, so unlike anything we have seen in terms of its anti-democratic practices, policies, modes of governance and ideology…The real changes are going to come in creating movements that are longstanding, that are organized, that basically take questions of governance and policy seriously and begin to spread out and become international. That is going to have to happen…

What we often find is we often find people who take for granted the systems that they live in. They take for granted the savagery— the sort of things that you talked about. And it produces two kinds of rage. It produces an inner rage in which people blame themselves…Then you have another expression of that rage, and that rage blames blacks. It blames immigrants. It blames young people….The question is how do you mobilize the rage in ways in which it’s not self-defeating, and in ways in which it doesn’t basically be used to scapegoat other people. That’s an educational issue. That should be at the center of any politics that matters.

Hope to me is a metaphor that speaks to the power of the imagination. I don’t believe that anyone should be involved in politics in a progressive way if they can’t understand that to act otherwise, you have to imagine otherwise.

What hope is predicated on is the assumption that life can be different than it is now...it really has to involve the hard work of A) recognizing the structures of domination that we have to face; B) organizing collectively and somehow to change those; and C) believing it can be done, that it’s worth the struggle….what we see for the first time in history is a war on the ability to produce meanings that hold power accountable. A war on the possibility of an education that enables people to think critically, a war on cultural apparatuses that entertain by simply engaging in this spectacle of violence and not producing programs that really are controversial, that make people think, that make people alive through the possibilities of, you know, the imagination itself…the formative culture that produces those kinds of intellectual and creative and imaginative abilities has been under assault since the 1980s in a very systemic way…It’s a culture run by people who believe that data is more important than knowledge…the collective imagination….emerges when people find strength in collective organizations, when they find strength in each other. Believing that we can work together to produce commons in which we can share that raises everybody up and not just some people, that contributes to the world…It’s an endless struggle. And that there’s joy in that struggle, because there’s a sense of solidarity that brings us together around the most basic, most elemental and the most important of democratic values.

Full text

In his book, Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism [4], author and scholar Henry Giroux connects the dots to prove his theory that our current system is informed by a “machinery of social and civil death” that chills “any vestige of a robust democracy.”

Giroux explains that such a machine produces “people who are basically so caught up with surviving that they become like the walking dead—they lose their sense of agency, they lose their homes, they lose their jobs.”

What’s more, Giroux points out, the system that creates this vacuum has little to do with expanding the meaning and the substance of democracy itself. Under “casino capitalism,” the goal is to get a quick return, taking advantage of a kind of logic in which the only thing that drives us is to put as much money as we can into a slot machine and hope we walk out with our wallets overflowing.

Full transcript of the interview with Giroux below the video:

BILL MOYERS: A very wise teacher once told us, “If you want to change the world, change the metaphor.” Then he gave us some of his favorite examples. You think of language differently, he said, if you think of “words pregnant with celestial fire.” Or “words that weep and tears that speak.” Of course, the heart doesn’t physically separate into pieces when we lose someone we love, but “a broken heart” conveys the depth of loss. And if I say you are the “apple of my eye,” you know how special you are in my sight. In other words, metaphors cleanse the lens of perception and give us a fresh take on reality.

Recently I read a book and saw a film that opened my eyes to see differently the crisis of our times, and the metaphor used by both was, believe it or not, zombies. You heard me right, zombies. More on the film later, but this is the book: Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism. Talk about “connecting the dots.” Read this, and the headlines of the day will, I think, arrange themselves differently in your head, threading together ideas and experiences to reveal a pattern. The skillful weaver is Henry Giroux, a scholar, teacher and social critic with seemingly tireless energy and a broad range of interests. Here are just a few of his books: America’s Education Deficit and the War on YouthTwilight of the SocialYouth in a Suspect SocietyNeoliberalism’s War on Higher Education.

Henry Giroux is the son of working-class parents in Rhode Island who now holds the Global TV Network Chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. Henry Giroux, welcome.

There’s a great urgency in your recent books and in the essays you’ve been posting online, a fierce urgency, almost as if you are writing with the doomsday clock ticking. What accounts for that?

HENRY GIROUX: Well, for me democracy is too important to allow it to be undermined in a way in which every vital institution that matters from the political process to the schools to the inequalities that, to the money being put into politics, I mean, all those things that make a democracy viable are in crisis.

And the problem is the crisis, while we recognize in many ways is associated increasingly with the economic system, what we haven’t gotten yet is that it should be accompanied by a crisis of ideas, that the stories that are being told about democracy are really about the swindle of fulfillment.

The swindle of fulfillment in that what the reigning elite in all of their diversity now tell the American people if not the rest of the world is that democracy is an excess. It doesn’t really matter anymore, that we don’t need social provisions, we don’t need the welfare state, that the survival of the fittest is all that matters, that in fact society should mimic those values in ways that suggest a new narrative.

You have a consolidation of power that is so overwhelming, not just in its ability to control resources and drive the economy and redistribute wealth upward, but basically to provide the most fraudulent definition of what a democracy should be.

The notion that profit making is the essence of democracy, the notion that economics is divorced from ethics, the notion that the only obligation of citizenship is consumerism, the notion that the welfare state is a pathology, that any form of dependency basically is disreputable and needs to be attacked, I mean, this is a vicious set of assumptions.

BILL MOYERS: Are we close to equating democracy with capitalism?

HENRY GIROUX: Oh, I mean, I think that’s the biggest lie of all actually. The biggest lie of all is that capitalism is democracy. We have no way of understanding democracy outside of the market, just as we have no understanding of how to understand freedom outside of market values.

BILL MOYERS: Explain that. What do you mean “outside of market values”?

HENRY GIROUX: I mean you know, when Margaret Thatcher married Ronald Reagan—

BILL MOYERS: Metaphorically?

HENRY GIROUX: Metaphorically. Two things happened. One, there was this assumption that the government was evil except when it regulated its power to benefit the rich. So it wasn’t a matter of smashing the government as Reagan seemed to suggest, it was a matter of rearranging it and reconfiguring it so it served the wealthy, the elites and the corporate, of course, you know, those who run mega corporations. But Thatcher said something else that’s particularly interesting in this discussion.

She said there’s no such thing as society. There are only individuals and families. And so what we begin to see is the emergence of a kind of ethic, a survival of the fittest ethic that legitimates the most incredible forms of cruelty, that seems to suggest that freedom in this discourse of getting rid of society, getting rid of the social— that discourse is really only about self-interest, that possessive individualism is now the only virtue that matters. So freedom, which is essential to any notion of democracy, now becomes nothing more than a matter of pursuing your own self interests. No society can survive under those conditions.

BILL MOYERS: So what is society? When you use it as an antithesis to what Margaret Thatcher said, what do you have in mind? What’s the metaphor for—

HENRY GIROUX: I have in mind a society in which the wealth is shared, in which there is a mesh of organizations that are grounded in the social contract, that takes seriously the mutual obligations that people have to each other. But more than anything else— I’m sorry, but I want to echo something that FDR once said.

When he said that, you know, you not only have to have personal freedoms and political freedoms, the right to vote the right to speak, you have to have social freedom. You have to have the freedom from want, the freedom from poverty, the freedom from— that comes with a lack of health care.

Getting ahead cannot be the only motive that motivates people. You have to imagine what a good life is. But agency, the ability to do that, to have the capacity to basically be able to make decisions and learn how to govern and not just be governed—

BILL MOYERS: As a citizen.

HENRY GIROUX: As a citizen.

BILL MOYERS: A citizen is a moral agent of—

HENRY GIROUX: A citizen is a political and moral agent who in fact has a shared sense of hope and responsibility to others and not just to him or herself. Under this system, democracy is basically like the lotto. You know, go in, you put a coin in, and if you’re lucky, you win something. If you don’t, then you become something else.

BILL MOYERS: So then why when I talk about the urgency in your writing, your forthcoming book opens with this sentence, “America’s descending into madness.” Now, don’t you think many people will read that as hyperbole?

HENRY GIROUX: Sometimes in the exaggerations there are great truths. And it seems to me that what’s unfortunate here is that’s not an exaggeration.

BILL MOYERS: Well, madness can mean several things. It can mean insanity. It can mean lunacy. But it can also mean folly, foolishness, you know, look at that craziness over there. Which do you mean?

HENRY GIROUX: I mean, it’s certainly not just about foolishness. It’s about a kind of lunacy in which people lose themselves in a sense of power and greed and exceptionalism and nationalism in ways that so undercut the meaning of democracy and the meaning of justice that you have to sit back and ask yourself how could the following, for instance, take place?

How could people who allegedly believe in democracy and the American Congress cut $40 billion from a food stamp program, half of which those food stamps go to children? And you ask yourself how could that happen? I mean, how can you say no to a Medicaid program which is far from radical but at the same time offers poor people health benefits that could save their lives?

How do you shut down public schools and say that charter schools and private schools are better because education is really not a right, it’s an entitlement? How do you get a discourse governing the country that seems to suggest that anything public, public health, public transportation, public values, you know, public engagement is a pathology?

BILL MOYERS: Let me answer that from the other side. They would say to you that we cut Medicaid or food stamps because they create dependency. We closed public schools because they aren’t working, they aren’t teaching. People are coming out not ready for life.

HENRY GIROUX: No, no, that’s the answer that they give. I mean, and it’s a mark of their insanity. I mean, that’s precisely an answer that in my mind embodies a kind of psychosis that is so divorced— is in such denial about power and how it works and is in such denial about their attempt at what I call individualize the social, in other words—

BILL MOYERS: Individualize?

HENRY GIROUX: Individualize the social, which means that all problems, if they exist, rest on the shoulders of individuals.

BILL MOYERS: You are responsible.

HENRY GIROUX: You are responsible.

BILL MOYERS: If you’re poor, you’re responsible if you’re ignorant, you’re responsible if—

HENRY GIROUX: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: —you’re sick?

HENRY GIROUX: That’s right, that the government— the larger social order, the society has no responsibility whatsoever so that— you often hear this, I mean, if there—I mean, if you have an economic crisis caused by the hedge fund crooks, you know and millions of people are put out of work and they’re all lining up for unemployment, what do we hear in the national media? We hear that maybe they don’t know how to fill out unemployment forms, maybe it’s about character. You know, maybe they’re just simply lazy.

BILL MOYERS: This line struck me: “The ideology of hardness and cruelty runs through American culture like an electric current…”

HENRY GIROUX: Yeah, it sure does. I mean, to see poor people, their benefits being cut, to see pensions of Americans who have worked like my father, all their lives, and taken away, to see the rich just accumulating more and more wealth.

I mean, it seems to me that there has to be a point where you have to say, “No, this has to stop.” We can’t allow ourselves to be driven by those lies anymore. We can’t allow those who are rich, who are privileged, who are entitled, who accumulate wealth to simply engage in a flight from social and moral and political responsibility by blaming the people who are victimized by those policies as the source of those problems.

BILL MOYERS: There’s a new reality you write emerging in America in no small part because of the media, one that enshrines a politics of disposability in which growing numbers of people are considered dispensable and a drain on the body politic and the economy, not to mention you say an affront on the sensibilities of the rich and the powerful.

HENRY GIROUX: If somebody had to say to me, “What exactly is new that we haven’t seen before?” And I think that what we haven’t seen before is an attack on the social contract, Bill, that is so overwhelming, so dangerous in the way in which its being deconstructed and being disassembled that you now have as a classic example, you have a whole generation of young people who are now seen as disposable.

They’re in debt, they’re unemployed. My friend, Zygmunt Bauman, calls them the zero generation: zero jobs, zero hope, zero possibilities, zero employment. And it seems to me when a country turns its back on its young people because they figure in investments not long term investments, they can’t be treated as simply commodities that are going to in some way provide an instant payback and extend the bottom line, they represent something more noble than that. They represent an indication of how the future is not going to mimic the present and what obligations people might have, social, political, moral and otherwise to allow that to happen, and we’ve defaulted on that possibility.

BILL MOYERS: You actually call it— there’s the title of the book, “America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth.”

HENRY GIROUX: Oh, this is a war. It’s a war that endlessly commercializes kids, both as commodities and as commodifiable.

BILL MOYERS: Example?

HENRY GIROUX: Example being that the young people can’t turn anywhere without in some way being told that the only obligation of citizenship is to shop, is to be a consumer. You can’t walk on a college campus today and walk into the student union and not see everybody represented there from the local banks to Disneyland to local shops, all selling things.

I mean, it’s like the school has become a mall. It imitates the mall. And if you walk into schools as one example, I mean, you look at the buses, there are advertisements on the buses. You walk into the bathroom, there are advertisements above the stalls. I mean, and the curriculum is written by General Electric.

BILL MOYERS: We’re all branded—

HENRY GIROUX: They’re branded, they’re branded.

BILL MOYERS: —everything is branded?

HENRY GIROUX: Where are the public spaces for young people other learn a discourse that’s not commodified, to be able to think about non-commodifiable values like trust, justice, honesty, integrity, caring for others, compassion. Those things, they’re just simply absent, they’re not part of those public spheres because those spheres have been commodified.

What does it mean to go to school all day and just be taking tests and learning how to teach for the test? Their minds are numb. I mean—the expression I get from them, they call school dead time, these kids. Say it’s dead time. I call it their dis-imagination zones.

BILL MOYERS: Dis-imagination?

HENRY GIROUX: Yeah, yeah, they rob— it’s a form of learning that robs the mind of any possibility of being imaginative. The arts are cut out, right, so the questions are not being raised about what it means to be creative.

All of those things that speak to educating the imagination, to stretching it, the giving kids the knowledge, a sense of the traditions, the archives to take risks, to learn about the world, they’re disappearing.

BILL MOYERS: I heard you respond to someone who asked you at a public session the other evening: “What would you do about what you’ve just described?” And your first response was start debating societies in high schools all across the country.

HENRY GIROUX: That’s right. One of the things that I learned quickly as a result of the Internet is I started getting a ton of letters from students who basically were involved in these debate societies. And they’re saying like things, “We use your work. We love this work.”

And I actually got involved with one that was working with— out of Brown University’s working with a high school in the inner cities, and I got involved with some of the students. But then I began to learn as a result of that involvement that these were the most radical kids in the country.

I mean, these were kids who embodied what a critical public sphere meant. They were going all over the country, different high schools, working class kids no less, debating major issues and getting so excited about in many ways winning these debates but doing it on the side of— something they could believe in.

And I thought to myself, “Wow, here’s a space.” Here’s a space where you’re going to have a whole generation of kids who could be actually engaging in debate and dialogue. Every working class urban school in this country should put its resources as much as possible into a debate team.

BILL MOYERS: My favorite of your many books is this one, “Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism.” Why that metaphor, zombie politics?

HENRY GIROUX: Because it’s a politics that’s informed by the machinery of social and civil death.

BILL MOYERS: Death?

HENRY GIROUX: Death. It’s a death machine. It’s a death machine because in my estimation it does everything it can to kill any vestige of a robust democracy. It turns people into zombies, people who basically are so caught up with surviving that they have no— they become like the walking dead, you know, they lose their sense of agency— I mean they lose their homes, they lose their jobs.

And so this zombie metaphor actually operated at two levels. I mean, at one level it spoke to people who have no visions, who exercise a form of political leadership that extends the politics of what I call war and the machineries of death, whether those machineries are at home or abroad, whether they’re about the death of civil liberties or they’re about making up horrendous lies to actually invade a country like Iraq.

So this— the zombie metaphor is a way to sort of suggest that democracy is losing its oxygen, you know, it’s losing its vitality, that we have a politics that really is about the organization of the production of violence.

It’s losing its soul. It’s losing its spirit. It’s losing its ability to speak to itself in ways that would span the human spirit and the human possibility for justice and equality.

BILL MOYERS: Because we don’t think of zombies as having souls?

HENRY GIROUX: They don’t have souls.

BILL MOYERS: Right. You—

HENRY GIROUX: They’re driven by lust.

BILL MOYERS: By lust?

HENRY GIROUX: The lust for money, the lust for power.

BILL MOYERS: Well, that’s, I guess, why you mix your metaphors. Because you talk about casino capitalists, zombie politics, which you say in the book shapes every aspect—

HENRY GIROUX: Every aspect.

BILL MOYERS: —of society.

HENRY GIROUX: Yeah, at the current moment. This is what—

BILL MOYERS: How so?

HENRY GIROUX: Well, first, let’s begin with an assumption. This casino capitalism as we talk about it, right, one of the things that it does that hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t just believe it can control the economy. It believes that it can govern all of social life. That’s different.

That means it has to have its tentacles into every aspect of everyday life. Everything from the way schools are run to the way prisons are outsourced to the way the financial services are run to the way in which people have access to health care, it’s an all-encompassing, it seems to me, political, cultural, educational apparatus.

And it basically has nothing to do with expanding the meaning and the substance of democracy itself. What it has to do is expanding— what it means to get—a quick return, what it means to take advantage of a kind of casino logic in which the only thing that drives you is to go to that slot machine and somehow get more, just pump the machine, put as much money in as you can into it and walk out a rich man. That’s what it’s about.

BILL MOYERS: You say that casino capitalist, zombie politics views competition as a form of social combat, celebrates war as an extension of politics and legitimates a ruthless social Darwinism.

HENRY GIROUX: Oh, I mean, it is truly ruthless. I mean, imagine yourself on a reality TV program called “The Survivor,” you and I, we’re all that’s left. The ideology that drives that program is only one of us is going to win. I don’t have any respect for you. I mean, all I’m trying to do is beat you. I just want to be the one that’s left. I want to win the big prize.

And it seems to me that what’s unfortunate is that reality now mimics reality TV. It is reality TV in terms of the consensus that drives it, that the shared fears are more important than shared responsibilities, that the social contract is the pathology because it basically suggests helping people is a strength rather than a weakness.

It believes that social bonds not driven by market values are basically bonds that we should find despicable. But even worse, in this ethic, the market has colonized pleasure in such a way that violence in many ways seems to be the only way left that people can actually experience pleasure whether it’s in the popular medium, whether it’s in the way in which we militarize local police to become SWAT teams that actually will break up poker games now in full gear or give away surplus material, equipment to a place like Ohio State University, who got an armored tank.

I mean, I guess— I’m wondering what does it mean when you’re on a campus and you see an armored tank, you know, by the university police? I mean, this is— everything is a war zone. You know, Senator Graham—when Lindsey Graham, he said— in talking about the terrorist laws, you know these horrible laws that are being put into place in which Americans can be captured, they can be killed and, you know—the kill list all of this, he basically says, “Everybody’s a potential terrorist.”

I mean, so that what happens here is that this notion of fear and this fear around the notion of security that is simply about protecting yourself, not about social security, not about protecting the commons, not about protecting the environment, turns everybody into a potential enemy. I mean, we cannot mediate our relationships it seems any longer in this culture in ways in which we would suggest and adhere to the notion that justice is a matter of caring for the other, that compassion matters.

BILL MOYERS: So this is why you write that America’s no longer recognizable as a democracy?

HENRY GIROUX: No. Look, as the social state is crippled, as the social state is in some way robbed, hollowed out and robbed of its potential and its capacities, what takes its place? The punishing state takes its place.

You get this notion of incarceration, this, what we call the governing through crime complex where governance now has been ceded to corporations who largely are basically about benefiting the rich, the ultra-rich, the big corporations and allowing the state to exercise its power in enormously destructive and limited ways.

And those ways are about militarizing the culture, criminalizing a wide swathe of social behavior and keeping people in check. What does it mean when you turn on the television in the United States and you see young kids, peaceful protestors, lying down with their hands locked and you got a guy with, you know, spraying them with pepper spray as if there’s something normal about that, as if that’s all it takes, that’s how we solve problems? I mean, I guess the question here is what is it in a culture that would allow the public to believe that with almost any problem that arises, force is the first way to address it.

I mean, one has to recognize that in that kind of logic, something has happened in which the state is no longer in the service of democracy.

BILL MOYERS: Well, George Monbiot, who writes for theGuardian, wrote just the other day, “It’s business that really rules us.” And he says, “So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics … When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political funding system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians of the main … parties stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of the system that inspires us to participate?”

HENRY GIROUX: I mean, the real question is why aren’t we more outraged?

HENRY GIROUX: Why aren’t we in the streets?

HENRY GIROUX: I mean, that’s the central question for the American public. I mean, and I think that question has to address something fundamental and that is what we have, while we have an economic system that in fact has caused a crisis in democracy. What we haven’t addressed is the underlying consensus that informs that crisis. What you have is basically a transgression against the very basic ideals of democracy. We have lost what it means to be connected to democracy.

And I think that’s coupled with a cultural apparatus, a culture, an educative culture, a mode of politics in which people now have gone through this for so long that it’s become normalized. I mean, it’s hard to imagine life beyond capitalism. You know, it’s easier to imagine the death of the planet than it is to imagine the death of capitalism. I mean— and so it seems to me—

BILL MOYERS: Well, don’t you think people want to be capitalist? Don’t you think people want capitalism? They want money?

HENRY GIROUX: I’m not sure if they want those things. I mean, I think when you read all the surveys about what’s important to people’s lives, Bill, actually the things that they focus on are not about, you know, “I want to be about the Kardashian sisters.” God forbid, right?

I mean, I think that what—they the same way we want—we need a decent education for our kids, we want, you know, real healthcare. I mean, we want the sense of equality in the country. We want to be able to control the political process so that we’re not simply nameless and invisible and disposable.

I mean, they want women to be able to have the right to have some control over their own reproductive rights. I mean, they’re talking about gay rights being a legitimate pursuit of justice.

And I think that what is missing from all of this are the basic, are those alternative public spheres, those cultural formations, what I call a formative culture that can bring people together and give those ideas, embody them in both a sense of hope, of vision and the organizations and strategies that would be necessary at the very least to start a third party, at the very least. I mean, to start a party that is not part of this establishment, to reconstruct a sense of where politics can go.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you write that the liberal center has failed us and for all of its discourse of helping the poor, of addressing inequality, it always ends up on the side of bankers and finance capital, right.

HENRY GIROUX: Are you talking about Obama?

BILL MOYERS: I’m talking about what you say.

HENRY GIROUX: I know, I know. I’m—

BILL MOYERS: But you do, I must be fair and say that you go on in that same chapter of one of these books to say isn’t it time we forget trying to pressure Obama to do the right thing?

HENRY GIROUX: Obama to me is symptomatic to me of the liberal center. But the issue is much greater than him. I mean, the issue is in a system that is entirely broken. It’s broken.

Elections are bought by big money. The political process is not in the hands of the people. It’s in the hands of very few people. And it seems to me we have to ask ourselves what kind of formative culture needs to be put in place in which education becomes central to politics, in which politics can be used to help people to be able to see things differently, to get beyond this system that is so closed, so powerfully normalized.

I mean, the right since the 1970s has created a massive cultural apparatus, a slew of anti-public intellectuals. They’ve invaded the universities with think tanks. They have foundations. They have all kinds of money. And you know, it’s interesting, the war they wage is a war on the mind.

The war on what it means to be able to dissent, the war on the possibility of alternative visions. And the left really has— and progressives and liberals, we have nothing like that. I mean, we always seem to believe that all you have to do is tell the truth.

BILL MOYERS: You shall know the truth, the truth will set you free.

HENRY GIROUX: Yeah, and the truth will set you free. But I’m sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

BILL MOYERS: Which brings me to the book you’re now finishing and will be published next spring. You call it The Violence of Organized Forgetting. What are we forgetting?

HENRY GIROUX: We’re forgetting the past. We’re forgetting all those struggles that in fact offered a different story about the United States.

BILL MOYERS: How is it organized, this forgetting?

HENRY GIROUX: It’s organized because it’s systemic. It’s organized because you have people controlling schools who are deleting those histories and making sure that they don’t appear. In Tucson, Arizona, they banished ethnic studies from the curriculum. This is the dis-imagination machine. That’s the hardcore element.

BILL MOYERS: The suffocation of imagination?

HENRY GIROUX: The suffocation of imagination. And we kill the imagination by suggesting that the only kind of rationality that matters, the only kind of learning that matters is utterly instrumental, pragmatist.

So what we do is we collapse education into training, and we end up suggesting that not knowing much is somehow a virtue. And I’ll and I think what’s so disturbing about this is not only do you see it in the popular culture with the lowest common denominator now drives that culture, but you also see it coming from politicians who actually say things that suggest something about the policies they’d like to implement.

I mean, I know Rick Santorum is not— is kind of a, you know, an obvious figure. But when he stands up in front of a body of Republicans and he says, the last thing we need in the Republican party are intellectuals. And I think it’s kind of a template for the sort of idiocy that increasingly now dominates our culture.

BILL MOYERS: What is an intellectual, by the way? The atmosphere has been so poisoned, as you know, by what you’ve been describing, that many people bridle when they hear the term intellectual pursuit.

HENRY GIROUX: I mean, yeah, I think intellectuals are— there are two ways we can describe intellectuals. In the most general sense, we can say, “Intellectuals are people who take pride in ideas. They work with ideas.” I mean, they believe that ideas matter. They believe that there’s no such thing as common sense, good sense or bad sense, but reflective sense.

That ideas offer the framework for gives us agency, what allows us to read the world critically, what allows us to be literate. What allows us to be civic literacy may be in some ways the high point of what it means to be an intellectual—

BILL MOYERS: Because?

HENRY GIROUX: Because it suggests that how we learn what we learn and what we do with the knowledge that we have is not just for ourselves. It’s for the way in which we can expand and deepen the very processes of democracy in general, and address those problems and anti-democratic forces that work against it. Now some people make a living as a result of being intellectuals. But there are people who are intellectuals who don’t function in that capacity. They’re truck drivers. They’re workers.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood. The smartest people I have ever met were in that neighborhood. We read books. We went to the library together. We drank on Friday nights. We talked about [Antonio] Gramsci. We drove to Boston—

BILL MOYERS: Gramsci being the Italian philosopher.

HENRY GIROUX: The Italian philosopher. I mean—

BILL MOYERS: The pessimism of the—

HENRY GIROUX: Of the intellect, and optimism of the will.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

HENRY GIROUX: Right? I mean, we—

BILL MOYERS: You see the world as it is, but then you act as if you can change the world.

HENRY GIROUX: Exactly. I mean, we tried to find ways to both enliven the neighborhoods we lived in. But at the same time, we knew that that wasn’t enough. That one— that there was a world beyond our neighborhood, and that world had all kinds of things for us to learn. And we were excited about that. I mean, we drank, danced and talked. That’s what we did.

BILL MOYERS: And I assume there were some other more private activities.

HENRY GIROUX: And there was more private activity.

BILL MOYERS: You know, you are a buoyant man. And yet you describe what you call a shift away from the hope that accompanies the living, to a politics of cynicism and despair.

HENRY GIROUX: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: What leads you to this?

HENRY GIROUX: What leads me to this is something that we mentioned earlier, and that is when you see policies being enacted today that are so cruel and so savage, wiping out a generation of young people, trying to eliminate public schools, eliminating health care, putting endless percentage of black and brown people in jail, destroying the environment and there’s no public outrage.

There aren’t people in the streets. You know, you have to ask yourself, “Has this market mentality, is it so powerful and that it’s become so normalized, so taken for granted that the imagination, the collective imagination has been so stunted that it becomes difficult to challenge it anymore?” And I think that leads me to despair somewhat. But I’ve always felt that in the face of the worst tyrannies, people resist.

They’re resisting now all over the world. And it seems to me history is open. I believe history is open. I don’t believe that we have reached the finality of a system that is so destructive that all we have to do is look at the clock and say, “One minute left.” I don’t believe in those kinds of metaphors.

We have to acknowledge the realities that bear down on us, but it seems to me that if we really want to live in a world and be alive with compassion and justice, then we need educated hope. We need a hope that recognizes the problems and doesn’t romanticize them, and also recognizes the need for vision, for social organizations, for strategies. We need institutions that provide the formative culture that give voice to those visions and those ideas.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve talked elsewhere or written elsewhere about the need for a militant, far-reaching, social movement to challenge the false claims that equate democracy and capitalism. Now, what do you mean “militant and far-reaching social movement”?

HENRY GIROUX: I mean, what we do know, we know this. We know that there are people working in local communities all over the United States around particular kinds of issues, whether it be gay rights, whether it be the environment, whether it be, you know the Occupy movement, helping people with Hurricane Sandy. We have a lot of fragmented movements.

And I think we probably have a lot more than we realize, because the press gives them no visibility, as you know. So, we don’t really have a sense of the degree to which these— how pronounced these really are. I think the real issue here is, you know, what would it mean to begin to do at least two things?

To say the very least, one is to develop cultural apparatuses that can offer a new vocabulary for people, where questions of freedom and justice and the problems that we’re facing can be analyzed in ways that reach mass audiences in accessible language. We have to build a formative culture. We have to do that. Secondly, we’ve got to overcome the fractured nature of these movements. I mean the thing that plagues me about progressives in the left and liberals is they are all sort of ensconced in these fragmented movements that seem to suggest those movements constitute the totality of the system of oppression that we are facing. And they don’t.

Look, we have technologies in place now in which students all over the world are beginning to communicate with each other because they’re realizing that the punishing logic of austerity has a certain kind of semblance that a certain normality that, in common ground, that is affecting students in Greece, students in Spain, students in France.

BILL MOYERS: And in this country?

HENRY GIROUX: And in this country. And it seems to me that while I may be too old to in any way begin to participate in this, I really believe that young people have recognized that they’ve been written out of the discourse of democracy. That they’re in the grip of something so oppressive it will take away their future, their hopes, their possibilities and their sense of the future will be one that is less than what their parents had imagined.

And there’s no going back. I mean, this has to be addressed. And it’ll take time. They’ll build the organizations. They’ll get— they’ll work with the new technologies. And hopefully they’ll have our generation to be able to assist in that, but it’s not going to happen tomorrow. And it’s not going to happen in a year. It’s going to as you have to plant seeds. You have to believe that seeds matter.

But you need a different vocabulary and a different understanding of politics. Look, the right has one thing going for it that nobody wants to talk about. Power is global. And politics is local. They float. They have no allegiance to anyone. They don’t care about the social contract, because if workers in the United States don’t want to compromise, they’ll get them in Mexico. So the notion of political concessions has died for this class. They don’t care about it anymore. There are no political concessions.

BILL MOYERS: The financial class.

HENRY GIROUX: The financial class.

BILL MOYERS: The one percent.

HENRY GIROUX: The one percent. That’s why they’re so savage. They’re so savage because there’s nothing to give up. They don’t have to compromise. The power is so arrogant, so over the top, so unlike anything we have seen in terms of its anti-democratic practices, policies, modes of governance and ideology.

That at some point, you know they feel they don’t have to legitimate this anymore. I mean, it’s because the contradictions are becoming so great, that I think all of a sudden a lot of young people are recognizing this language, this whole language, doesn’t work. The language of liberalism doesn’t work anymore.

No, let’s just reform the system. Let’s work within it. Let’s just run people for office. My argument would be, you have one foot in and you have one foot out. I’m not willing to give up the school board. I’m not willing to give up all forms of electoral politics. But it seems to me at the local level we can do some of that thing, that people can get elected. They can make moderate changes.

But the real changes are not going to come there. The real changes are going to come in creating movements that are longstanding, that are organized, that basically take questions of governance and policy seriously and begin to spread out and become international. That is going to have to happen.

BILL MOYERS: But here’s the contradiction I hear in what you’re saying. That if you write about a turning toward despair and cynicism in politics. Can you get movements out of despair and cynicism? Can you get people who will take on the system when they have been told that the system is so powerful and so overwhelming that they’ve lost their, as you call it, moral and political agency?

HENRY GIROUX: Well, let me put it this way. What we often find is we often find people who take for granted the systems that they live in. They take for granted the savagery— the sort of things that you talked about. And it produces two kinds of rage. It produces an inner rage in which people blame themselves.

It’s so disturbing to me to see working-class, middle-class people blaming themselves when these bankers have actually caused the crisis. That’s the first issue.

Then you have another expression of that rage, and that rage blames blacks. It blames immigrants. It blames young people. It says, “They’re not—” it says about youth, it says, “Youth is not in trouble. They’re the problem.”

And so, all of a sudden that rage gets displaced. The question is not what do we— the question is not just where’s the outrage. The question is how do you mobilize the rage in ways in which it’s not self-defeating, and in ways in which it doesn’t basically be used to scapegoat other people. That’s an educational issue. That should be at the center of any politics that matters.

BILL MOYERS: One of your intellectual mentors, the philosopher Ernst Bloch, said, “We must believe in the principle of hope.” And you’ve written often about the language of hope. What does that mean, the principle of hope and the language of hope, and why are they important as you see it in creating this new paradigm, metaphor that you talk about?

HENRY GIROUX: Hope to me is a metaphor that speaks to the power of the imagination. I don’t believe that anyone should be involved in politics in a progressive way if they can’t understand that to act otherwise, you have to imagine otherwise.

What hope is predicated on is the assumption that life can be different than it is now. But to be different than it is now, rather than romanticizing hope and turning it into something Disney-like, right, it really has to involve the hard work of A) recognizing the structures of domination that we have to face; B) organizing collectively and somehow to change those; and C) believing it can be done, that it’s worth the struggle.

That if the struggles are not believed in, if people don’t have the faith to engage in these struggles, and that’s the issue. I mean, that working class neighborhood that I talked to you about in the beginning of the program, I mean, it just resonates with such a sense of joy for me, the sense of solidarity, sociality.

And I think all the institutions that are being constructed under this market tyranny, this casino capitals is just the opposite. It’s like that image of all these people at the bus stop, right. And they’re all— they’re together, but they’re alone. They’re alone.

BILL MOYERS: If we have zombied politics, if we have as you say, metaphorically, zombies in the high levels of government, zombies in banks and financial centers and zombies in the military, can’t you have a zombie population? I mean, you say the stories that are being told through the commercial corporate entertainment media are all the more powerful because they seem to defy the public’s desire for rigorous accountability, critical interrogation and openness.

Now if that’s what the public wants, why isn’t the market providing them? Isn’t that what the market’s supposed to do? Provide what people want?

HENRY GIROUX: The market doesn’t want that at all. I mean, the market wants the people, the apostles of this market logic, I mean, they actually the first rule of the market is make sure you have power that’s unaccountable. That’s what they want.

And I think that, I mean, what we see for the first time in history is a war on the ability to produce meanings that hold power accountable. A war on the possibility of an education that enables people to think critically, a war on cultural apparatuses that entertain by simply engaging in this spectacle of violence and not producing programs that really are controversial, that make people think, that make people alive through the possibilities of, you know, the imagination itself.

I mean, my argument is the formative culture that produces those kinds of intellectual and creative and imaginative abilities has been under assault since the 1980s in a very systemic way. So that the formative culture that takes its place is a business culture. It’s a culture run by accountants, not by visionaries. It’s a culture run by the financial services. It’s a culture run by people who believe that data is more important than knowledge.

BILL MOYERS: You paint a very grim picture of the state of democracy, and yet you don’t seem contaminated by cynicism yourself.

HENRY GIROUX: No, I’m not.

BILL MOYERS: How do we understand that?

HENRY GIROUX: Because I refuse to become a part of it.

Become I refuse to become complicitous. I refuse to say—I refuse to be alive and to watch institutions being handed over to right-wing zealots. I refuse to be alive and watch the planet be destroyed.

I mean, when you mentioned— you talk about the collective imagination, you know, I mean that imagination emerges when people find strength in collective organizations, when they find strength in each other.

Believing that we can work together to produce commons in which we can share that raises everybody up and not just some people, that contributes to the world in a way that— and I really don’t mean to be romanticizing here, but a world that is we recognize is never just enough. Justice is never done. It’s an endless struggle. And that there’s joy in that struggle, because there’s a sense of solidarity that brings us together around the most basic, most elemental and the most important of democratic values.

BILL MOYERS: Henry Giroux, thank you, very much for talking to me.

HENRY GIROUX: Thank you, Bill.

See more stories tagged with:

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moyers & company [7],

Henry Giroux [8],

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Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism [10]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/do-we-live-era-zombie-politics

Links:
[1] http://billmoyers.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/bill-moyers-0
[3] http://billmoyers.com/segment/henry-giroux-on-zombie-politics/
[4] http://www.amazon.com/Politics-Culture-Capitalism-Popular-Everyday/dp/1433112264
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bill-moyers
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/interview-0
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/moyers-company-0
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/henry-giroux-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/capitalism
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/zombie-politics-and-culture-age-casino-capitalism
[11] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

The Rise of the New New Left

by Peter Beinart, The Daily Beast, Sep 12, 2013

Bill de Blasio’s win in New York’s Democratic primary isn’t a local story. It’s part of a vast shift that could upend three decades of American political thinking. By Peter Beinart

Maybe Bill de Blasio got lucky. Maybe he only won because he cut a sweet ad featuring his biracial son. Or because his rivals were either spectacularly boring, spectacularly pathological, or running for Michael Bloomberg’s fourth term. But I don’t think so. The deeper you look, the stronger the evidence that de Blasio’s victory is an omen of what may become the defining story of America’s next political era: the challenge, to both parties, from the left. It’s a challenge Hillary Clinton should start worrying about now.

To understand why that challenge may prove so destabilizing, start with this core truth: For the past two decades, American politics has been largely a contest between Reaganism and Clintonism. In 1981, Ronald Reagan shattered decades of New Deal consensus by seeking to radically scale back government’s role in the economy. In 1993, Bill Clinton brought the Democrats back to power by accepting that they must live in the world Reagan had made. Located somewhere between Reagan’s anti-government conservatism and the pro-government liberalism that preceded it, Clinton articulated an ideological “third way”: Inclined toward market solutions, not government bureaucracy, focused on economic growth, not economic redistribution, and dedicated to equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, government spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product was lower than it had been when Reagan left office.

For a time, small flocks of pre-Reagan Republicans and pre-Clinton Democrats endured, unaware that their species were marked for extinction. Hard as they tried, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole could never muster much rage against the welfare state. Ted Kennedy never understood why Democrats should declare the era of big government over. But over time, the older generation in both parties passed from the scene and the younger politicians who took their place could scarcely conceive of a Republican Party that did not bear Reagan’s stamp or a Democratic Party that did not bear Clinton’s. These Republican children of Reagan and Democratic children of Clinton comprise America’s reigning political generation.

By “political generation,” I mean something particular. Pollsters slice Americans into generations at roughly 20-year intervals: Baby Boomers (born mid-1940s to mid-1960s); Generation X (mid-1960s to early 1980s); Millennials (early 1980s to 2000). But politically, these distinctions are arbitrary. To understand what constitutes a political generation, it makes more sense to follow the definition laid out by the early-20th-century sociologist Karl Mannheim. For Mannheim, generations were born from historical disruption. As he argued—and later scholars have confirmedpeople are disproportionately influenced by events that occur between their late teens and mid-twenties. During that period—between the time they leave their parents’ home and the time they create a stable home of their own—individuals are most prone to change cities, religions, political parties, brands of toothpaste. After that, lifestyles and attitudes calcify. For Mannheim, what defined a generation was the particular slice of history people experienced during those plastic years. A generation had no set length. A new one could emerge “every year, every thirty, every hundred.” What mattered was whether the events people experienced while at their most malleable were sufficiently different from those experienced by people older or younger than themselves.

Mannheim didn’t believe that everyone who experienced the same formative events would interpret them the same way. Germans who came of age in the early 1800s, he argued, were shaped by the Napoleonic wars. Some responded by becoming romantic-conservatives, others by becoming liberal-rationalists. What they shared was a distinct generational experience, which became the basis for a distinct intra-generational argument.

If Mannheim’s Germans constituted a political generation because in their plastic years they experienced the Napoleonic Wars, the men and women who today dominate American politics constitute a political generation because during their plastic years they experienced some part of the Reagan-Clinton era. That era lasted a long time. If you are in your late 50s, you are probably too young to remember the high tide of Kennedy-Johnson big government liberalism. You came of age during its collapse, a collapse that culminated with the defeat of Jimmy Carter. Then you watched Reagan rewrite America’s political rules. If you are in your early ‘40s, you may have caught the tail end of Reagan. But even if you didn’t, you were shaped by Clinton, who maneuvered within the constraints Reagan had built. To pollsters, a late 50-something is a Baby Boomer and an early 40-something is a Gen-Xer. But in Mannheim’s terms, they constitute a single generation because no great disruption in American politics divides them. They came of age as Reagan defined a new political era and Clinton ratified it. And as a rule, they play out their political struggles between the ideological poles that Reagan and Clinton set out.

To understand how this plays out in practice, look at the rising, younger politicians in both parties. Start with the GOP. If you look at the political biographies of nationally prominent 40-something Republicans—Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz—what they all have in common is Reagan. Jindal has said about growing up in Louisiana, “I grew up in a time when there weren’t a whole lot of Republicans in this state. But I identified with President Reagan.” At age 17, Scott Walker was chosen to represent his home state of Colorado in a Boys Nation trip to Washington. There he met “his hero, Ronald Reagan,” who “played a big role in inspiring me.” At age 21, Paul Ryan interned for Robert Kasten, who had ridden into the Senate in 1980 on Reagan’s coattails. Two years later he took a job with Jack Kemp, whose 1981 Kemp-Roth tax cut had helped usher in Reaganomics. Growing up in a fiercely anti-communist Cuban exile family in Miami, Marco Rubio writes in his autobiography that “Reagan’s election and my grandfather’s allegiance to him were defining influences on me politically.” Ted Cruz is most explicit of all. “I was 10 when Reagan became president,” he told a conservative group earlier this year. “I was 18 when he left the White House … I’ll go to my grave with Ronald Wilson Reagan defining what it means to be president … and when I look at this new generation of [Republican] leaders I see leaders that are all echoing Reagan.”

Younger Democratic politicians are less worshipful of Clinton. Yet his influence on their worldview is no less profound. Start with the most famous, still-youngish Democrat, a man who although a decade older than Rubio, Jindal, and Cruz, hails from the same Reagan-Clinton generation: Barack Obama. Because he opposed the Iraq War, and sometimes critiqued the Clintons as too cautious when running against Hillary in 2008, some commentators depicted Obama’s victory as a rejection of Clintonism. But to read The Audacity of Hope—Obama’s most detailed exposition of his political outlook—is to be reminded how much of a Clintonian Obama actually is. At Clintonism’s core was the conviction that to revive their party, Democrats must first acknowledge what Reagan got right.

Obama, in describing his own political evolution, does that again and again: “as disturbed as I might have been by Ronald Reagan’s election … I understood his appeal” (page 31). “Reagan’s central insight … contained a good deal of truth” (page 157). “In arguments with some of my friends on the left, I would find myself in the curious position of defending aspects of Reagan’s worldview” (page 289). Having given Reagan his due, Obama then sketches out a worldview in between the Reaganite right and unreconstructed, pre-Reagan left. “The explanations of both the right and the left have become mirror images of each other” (page 24), he declares in a chapter in which he derides “either/or thinking” (page 40). “It was Bill Clinton’s singular contribution that he tried to transcend this ideological deadlock” (page 34). Had the term not already been taken, Obama might well have called his intermediary path the “third way.”

The nationally visible Democrats rising behind Obama generally share his pro-capitalist, anti-bureaucratic, Reaganized liberalism. The most prominent is 43-year-old Cory Booker, who is famously close to Wall Street and supports introducing market competition into education via government-funded vouchers for private schools. In the words of New York magazine, “Booker is essentially a Clinton Democrat.” Gavin Newsom, the 45-year-old lieutenant governor of California, has embraced Silicon Valley in the same way Booker has embraced Wall Street. His book, Citizenville, calls for Americans to “reinvent government,” a phrase cribbed from Al Gore’s effort to strip away government bureaucracy in the 1990s. “In the private sector,” he told Time, “leaders are willing to take risks and find innovative solutions. In the public sector, politicians are risk-averse.” Julian Castro, the 39-year-old mayor of San Antonio and 2012 Democratic convention keynote speaker, is a fiscal conservative who supports NAFTA.

The argument between the children of Reagan and the children of Clinton is fierce, but ideologically, it tilts toward the right. Even after the financial crisis, the Clinton Democrats who lead their party don’t want to nationalize the banks, institute a single-payer health-care system, raise the top tax rate back to its pre-Reagan high, stop negotiating free-trade deals, launch a war on poverty, or appoint labor leaders rather than Wall Streeters to top economic posts. They want to regulate capitalism modestly. Their Reaganite Republican adversaries, by contrast, want to deregulate it radically. By pre-Reagan standards, the economic debate is taking place on the conservative side of the field. But—and this is the key point--there’s reason to believe that America’s next political generation will challenge those limits in ways that cause the leaders of both parties fits.

America’s youngest adults are called “Millennials” because the 21st century was dawning as they entered their plastic years. Coming of age in the 21st century is of no inherent political significance. But this calendric shift has coincided with a genuine historical disruption. Compared to their Reagan-Clinton generation elders, Millennials are entering adulthood in an America where government provides much less economic security. And their economic experience in this newly deregulated America has been horrendous. This experience has not produced a common generational outlook. No such thing ever exists. But it is producing a distinct intragenerational argument, one that does not respect the ideological boundaries to which Americans have become accustomed. The Millennials are unlikely to play out their political conflicts between the yard lines Reagan and Clinton set out.

Even if they are only a decade older than Millennials, politicians like Cruz, Rubio, and Walker hail from a different political generation.

In 2001, just as the first Millennials were entering the workforce, the United States fell into recession. By 2007 the unemployment rate had still not returned to its pre-recession level. Then the financial crisis hit. By 2012, data showed how economically bleak the Millennials’ first decade of adulthood had been. Between 1989 and 2000, when younger members of the Reagan-Clinton generation were entering the job market, inflation-adjusted wages for recent college graduates rose almost 11 percent, and wages for recent high school graduates rose 12 percent. Between 2000 and 2012, it was the reverse. Inflation-adjusted wages dropped 13 percent among recent high school graduates and 8 percent among recent graduates of college.

But it was worse than that. If Millennials were victims of a 21st-century downward slide in wages, they were also victims of a longer-term downward slide in benefits. The percentage of recent college graduates with employer-provided health care, for instance, dropped by half between 1989 and 2011.

The Great Recession hurt older Americans, too. But because they were more likely to already have secured some foothold in the job market, they were more cushioned from the blow. By 2009, the net worth of households headed by someone over 65 was 47 times the net worth of households headed by someone under 35, almost five times the margin that existed in 1984.

One reason is that in addition to coming of age in a terrible economy, Millennials have come of age at a time when the government safety net is far more threadbare for the young than for the middle-aged and old. As the Economic Policy Institute has pointed out, younger Americans are less likely than their elders to qualify for unemployment insurance, food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or the Earned Income Tax Credit. (Not to mention Medicare and Social Security.)

Millennials have also borne the brunt of declines in government spending on higher education. In 2012, according to The New York Times, state and local spending per college student hit a 25-year low. As government has cut back, universities have passed on the (ever-increasing) costs of college to students. Nationally, the share of households owing student debt doubled between 1989 and 2010, and the average amount of debt per household tripled, to $26,000.

Economic hardship has not always pushed Americans to the left. In the Clinton-Reagan era, for instance, the right often used culture and foreign policy to convince economically struggling Americans to vote against bigger government. But a mountain of survey data—plus the heavily Democratic tilt of Millennials in every national election in which they have voted—suggests that they are less susceptible to these right-wing populist appeals. For one thing, right-wing populism generally requires rousing white, Christian, straight, native-born Americans against Americans who are not all those things. But among Millennials, there are fewer white, Christian non-immigrants to rouse. Forty percent of Millennials are racial or ethnic minorities. Less than half say religion is “very important” to their lives.

And even those Millennials who are white, Christian, straight, and native-born are less resentful of people who are not. According to a 2010 Pew survey, whites under the age of 30 were more than 50 points more likely than whites over 65 to say they were comfortable with someone in their family marrying someone of another ethnicity or race. A 2011 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that almost 50 percent of evangelicals under the age of 30 back gay marriage.

Of course, new racial, ethnic, and sexual fault lines could emerge. But today, a Republican seeking to divert Millennial frustrations in a conservative cultural direction must reckon with the fact that Millennials are dramatically more liberal than the elderly and substantially more liberal than the Reagan-Clinton generation on every major culture war issue except abortion (where there is no significant generational divide).

They are also more dovish on foreign policy. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials are close to half as likely as the Reagan-Clinton generation to accept sacrificing civil liberties in the fight against terrorism  and much less likely to say the best way to fight terrorism is through military force.

It is these two factors—their economic hardship in an age of limited government protection and their resistance to right-wing cultural populism—that best explain why on economic issues, Millennials lean so far left. In 2010, Pew found that two-thirds of Millennials favored a bigger government with more services over a cheaper one with fewer services, a margin 25 points above the rest of the population. While large majorities of older and middle-aged Americans favored repealing Obamacare in late 2012, Millennials favored expanding it, by 17 points. Millennials are substantially more pro–labor union than the population at large.

The only economic issue on which Millennials show much libertarian instinct is the privatization of Social Security, which they disproportionately favor. But this may be less significant than it first appears. Historically, younger voters have long been more pro–Social Security privatization than older ones, with support dropping as they near retirement age. In fact, when asked if the government should spend more money on Social Security, Millennials are significantly more likely than past cohorts of young people to say yes.

Most striking of all, Millennials are more willing than their elders to challenge cherished American myths about capitalism and class. According to a 2011 Pew study, Americans under 30 are the only segment of the population to describe themselves as “have nots” rather than “haves.” They are far more likely than older Americans to say that business enjoys more control over their lives than government.  And unlike older Americans, who favor capitalism over socialism by roughly 25 points, Millennials, narrowly, favor socialism.

There is more reason to believe these attitudes will persist as Millennials age than to believe they will change. For starters, the liberalism of Millennials cannot be explained merely by the fact that they are young, because young Americans have not always been liberal. In recent years, polls have shown young Americans to be the segment of the population most supportive of government-run health care. But in 1978, they were the least supportive. In the last two elections, young Americans voted heavily for Obama. But in 1984 and 1988, Americans under 30 voted Republican for president.

Nor is it true that Americans necessarily grow more conservative as they age. Sometimes they do. But academic studies suggest that party identification, once forged in young adulthood, is more likely to persist than to change. There’s also strong evidence from a 2009 National Bureau of Economic Research paper that people who experience a recession in their plastic years support a larger state role in the economy throughout their lives.

The economic circumstances that have pushed Millennials left are also unlikely to change dramatically anytime soon. A 2010 study by Yale economist Lisa Kahn found that even 17 years later, people who had entered the workforce during a recession still earned 10 percent less than those who entered when the economy was strong.  In other words, even if the economy booms tomorrow, Millennials will still be suffering the Great Recession’s aftershocks for decades.

And the economy is not likely to boom. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke doesn’t believe the unemployment rate will reach 6 percent until 2016, and even that will be higher than the 1990s average. Nor are the government protections Millennials crave likely to appear anytime soon. To the contrary, as a result of the spending cuts signed into law in 2010 and the sequester that began this year, non-defense discretionary spending is set to decline by decade’s end to its lowest level in 50 years.

If Millennials remain on the left, the consequences for American politics over the next two decades could be profound. In the 2008 presidential election, Millennials constituted one-fifth of America’s voters. In 2012, they were one-quarter. In 2016, according to predictions by political demographer Ruy Teixeira, they will be one-third. And they will go on constituting between one-third and two-fifths of America’s voters through at least 2028.

This rise will challenge each party, but in different ways. In the runup to 2016, the media will likely feature stories about how 40-something Republicans like Marco Rubio, who blasts Snoop Dog from his car, or Paul Ryan, who enjoys Rage Against the Machine, may appeal to Millennials in ways that geezers like McCain and Romney did not. Don’t believe it. According to a 2012 Harvard survey, young Americans were more than twice as likely to say Mitt Romney’s selection of Ryan made them feel more negative about the ticket than more positive. In his 2010 Senate race, Rubio fared worse among young voters than any other age group. The same goes for Rand Paul in his Senate race that year in Kentucky, and Scott Walker in his 2010 race for governor of Wisconsin  and his recall battle in 2012.

Pre-election polls in Ted Cruz’s 2012 senate race in Texas (there were no exit polls) also showed him faring worst among the young.

The likeliest explanation for this is that while younger Republican candidates may have a greater cultural connection to young voters, the ideological gulf is vast. Even if they are only a decade older than Millennials, politicians like Cruz, Rubio, and Walker hail from a different political generation both because they came of age at a time of relative prosperity and because they were shaped by Reagan, whom Millennials don’t remember. In fact, the militantly anti-government vision espoused by ultra-Reaganites like Cruz, Rubio, and Walker isn’t even that popular among Millennial Republicans. As a July Pew survey notes, Republicans under 30 are more hostile to the Tea Party than any other Republican age group. By double digits, they’re also more likely than other Republicans to support increasing the minimum wage.

Republicans may modestly increase their standing among young voters by becoming more tolerant on cultural issues and less hawkish on foreign policy, but it’s unlikely they will become truly competitive unless they follow the counsel of conservative commentators Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam and “adapt to a new reality—namely, that today, Americans are increasingly worried about their economic security.” If there’s hope for the GOP, it’s that Millennials, while hungry for government to provide them that economic security, are also distrustful of its capacity to do so. As a result of growing up in what Chris Hayes’ has called the “fail decade” —the decade of the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina and the financial crisis—Millennials are even more cynical about government than the past generations of young Americans who wanted less from it. If a Republican presidential candidate could match his Democratic opponent as a champion of economic security and yet do so in a way that required less faith in Washington’s competence and benevolence, he might boost the GOP with young voters in a way no number of pop-culture references ever could.

If the Millennials challenge Reaganite orthodoxy, they will likely challenge Clintonian orthodoxy, too. Over the past three decades, Democratic politicians have grown accustomed to campaigning and governing in the absence of a mobilized left. This absence has weakened them: Unlike Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could never credibly threaten American conservatives that if they didn’t pass liberal reforms, left-wing radicals might disrupt social order. But Democrats of the Reagan-Clinton generation have also grown comfortable with that absence. From Tony Coelho, who during the Reagan years taught House Democrats to raise money from corporate lobbyists to Bill Clinton, who made Goldman Sachs co-chairman Robert Rubin his chief economic adviser, to Barack Obama, who gave the job to Rubin’s former deputy and alter ego, Larry Summers, Democrats have found it easier to forge relationships with the conservative worlds of big business and high finance because they have not faced much countervailing pressure from an independent movement of the left.

But that may be changing. Look at the forces that created Occupy Wall Street. The men and women who assembled in September 2011 in Zuccotti Park bore three key characteristics. First, they were young. According to a survey published by City University of New York’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor, 40 percent of the core activists involved taking over the park were under 30 years old. Second, they were highly educated. Eighty percent possessed at least a bachelors’ degree, more than twice the percentage of New Yorkers overall. Third, they were frustrated economically. According to the CUNY study, more than half the Occupy activists under 30 owed at least $1,000 in student debt. More than a one-third had lost a job or been laid off in the previous five years. In the words of David Graeber, the man widely credited with coining the slogan “We are the 99 percent,” the Occupy activists were “forward-looking people who had been stopped dead in their tracks” by bad economic times.

For a moment, Occupy shook the country. At one point in December 2011, Todd Gitlin points out in Occupy Nation, the movement had branches in one-third of the cities and towns in California. Then it collapsed. But as the political scientist Frances Fox Piven has argued, “The great protest movements of history … did not expand in the shape of a simple rising arc of popular defiance. Rather, they began in a particular place, sputtered and subsided, only to re-emerge elsewhere in perhaps a different form, influenced by local particularities of circumstance and culture.”

It’s impossible to know whether the protest against inequality will be such a movement. But the forces that drove it are unlikely to subside. Many young Americans feel that economic unfairness is costing them a shot at a decent life. Such sentiments have long been widespread among the poor. What’s new is their prevalence among people who saw their parents achieve—and expected for themselves—some measure of prosperity, the people Chris Hayes calls the “newly radicalized upper-middle class.”

If history is any guide, the sentiments behind Occupy will find their way into the political process, just as the anti-Vietnam movement helped create Eugene McCarthy’s presidential bid in 1968, and the civil-rights movement bred politicians like Andrew Young, Tom Bradley, and Jesse Jackson. That’s especially likely because Occupy’s message enjoys significant support among the young. A November 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that while Americans over 30 opposed Occupy’s goals by close to 20 points, Millennials supported them by 12.

Bill de Blasio’s mayoral campaign offers a glimpse into what an Occupy-inspired challenge to Clintonism might look like. In important ways, New York politics has mirrored national politics in the Reagan-Clinton era. Since 1978, the mayoralty has been dominated by three men—Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, and Michael Bloomberg—who although liberal on many cultural issues have closely identified Wall Street’s interests with the city’s. During their time in office, New York has become far safer, cleaner, more expensive, and more unequal. In Bloomberg’s words, New York is now a “high-end product.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, despite her roots on the left as a housing and LGBT activist, became Bloomberg’s heir apparent by stymieing bills that would have required businesses to give their employees paid sick leave and mandated a higher minimum wage for companies that receive government subsidies. Early in the campaign, many commentators considered this a wise strategy and anticipated that as New York’s first lesbian mayor, Quinn would symbolize the city’s unprecedented cultural tolerance while continuing its Clintonian economic policies.

Then strange things happened. First, Anthony Weiner entered the race and snatched support from Quinn before exploding in a blaze of late-night comedy. But when Weiner crashed, his support went not back to Quinn but to de Blasio, the candidate who most bluntly challenged Bloomberg’s economic philosophy. Calling it “an act of equalization in a city that is desperately falling into the habit of disparity,” de Blasio made his central proposal a tax on people making over $500,000 to fund universal childcare. He also called for requiring developers to build more affordable housing and ending the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policies that had angered many African-Americans and Latinos. Bloomberg’s deputy mayor Howard Wolfson tweeted that de Blasio’s “agenda is clear: higher taxes, bigger govt, more biz mandates. A u-turn back to the 70s.”

But in truth, it was Wolfson who was out of date: Fewer and fewer New Yorkers remember the 1970s, when economic stagnation, rising crime, and bloated government helped elect both Ed Koch and Ronald Reagan. What concerns them more today is that, as The New Yorker recently noted, “If the borough of Manhattan were a country, the income gap between the richest twenty per cent and the poorest twenty per cent would be on par with countries like Sierra Leone, Namibia, and Lesotho.”  In Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Quinn defeated de Blasio in those parts of New York where average income tops $175,000 per year.  But he beat her by 25 points overall.

Democrats in New York are more liberal than Democrats nationally. Still, the right presidential candidate, following de Blasio’s model, could seriously challenge Hillary Clinton. If that sounds far-fetched, consider the last two Democratic presidential primary campaigns. In October 2002, Howard Dean was so obscure that at a Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin repeatedly referred to him as “John.” But in the summer of 2003, running against the Iraq War amidst a field of Washington Democrats who had voted to authorize it, Dean caught fire. In the first quarter of the year he raised just under $3 million, less than one-third of John Kerry’s total. In the second quarter, he shocked insiders by beating Kerry and raising over $7 million. In the third quarter, he raised almost $15 million, far more than any Democrat ever had. By November, Harkin, Al Gore, and the nation’s two most powerful labor unions had endorsed Dean and he was well ahead in the Iowa polls.

At the last minute, Dean flamed out, undone by harsh attacks from his rivals and his campaign’s lack of discipline. Still, he established a template for toppling a Democratic frontrunner: inspire young voters, raise vast funds via small donations over the Web, and attack those elements of Clintonian orthodoxy that are accepted by Democratic elites but loathed by liberal activists on the ground.

In 2008, that became the template for Barack Obama. As late as October 2007, Hillary enjoyed a 33-point lead in national polls. But Obama made her support for the Iraq War a symbol of her alleged timidity in challenging the right-leaning consensus in Washington. As liberals began to see him as embodying the historic change they sought, Obama started raising ungodly amounts via small donors over the Internet, which in turned won him credibility with insiders in Washington. He overwhelmed Hillary Clinton in caucus states, where liberal activists wield greater power. And he overwhelmed her among younger voters. In the 2008 Iowa caucuses, youth turnout rose 30 percent and among voters under the age of 30, Obama beat Hillary by 46 points.

Hillary starts the 2016 race with formidable strengths. After a widely applauded term as secretary of state, her approval rating is 10 points higher than it was when she began running in 2008. Her vote to authorize Iraq will be less of a liability this time. Her campaign cannot possibly be as poorly managed. And she won’t have to run against Barack Obama.

Still, Hillary is vulnerable to a candidate who can inspire passion and embody fundamental change, especially on the subject of economic inequality and corporate power, a subject with deep resonance among Millennial Democrats. And the candidate who best fits that description is Elizabeth Warren.

First, as a woman, Warren would drain the deepest reservoir of pro-Hillary passion: the prospect of a female president. While Hillary would raise vast sums, Dean and Obama have both shown that in the digital age, an insurgent can compete financially by inspiring huge numbers of small donations. Elizabeth Warren can do that. She’s already shown a knack for going viral. A video of her first Senate banking committee hearing, where she scolded regulators that “too-big-to-fail has become too-big-for-trial,”  garnered 1 million hits on YouTube. In her 2012 Senate race, despite never before having sought elected office, she raised $42 million, more than twice as much as the second-highest-raising Democrat. After Bill Clinton and the Obamas, no other speaker at last summer’s Democratic convention so electrified the crowd.

Warren has done it by challenging corporate power with an intensity Clinton Democrats rarely muster. At the convention, she attacked the “Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—[who] still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.”

And in one of the biggest applause lines of the entire convention, taken straight from Occupy, she thundered that “we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.”

Don’t be fooled by Warren’s advanced age. If she runs, Millennials will be her base. No candidate is as well positioned to appeal to the young and economically insecure. Warren won her Senate race by eight points overall, but by 30 points among the young. The first bill she introduced in the Senate was a proposal to charge college students the same interest rates for their loans that the Federal Reserve offers big banks. It soon garnered 100,000 hits on YouTube.

A big reason Warren’s speech went viral was its promotion by Upworthy, a website dedicated to publicizing progressive narratives. And that speaks to another, underappreciated, advantage Warren would enjoy. Clinton Democrats once boasted a potent intellectual and media infrastructure. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Democratic Leadership Council and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, were the Democratic Party’s hottest ideas shops, and they dedicated themselves to restoring the party’s reputation as business-friendly. Influential New Democratic–aligned magazines like The New Republic and Washington Monthly also championed the cause.

Today, that New Democratic infrastructure barely exists. The DLC has closed down. The New Republic and Washington Monthly have moved left. And all the new powerhouses of the liberal media—from Paul Krugman (who was radicalized during the Bush years) to Jon Stewart (who took over The Daily Show in 1999) to MSNBC (which as late as 2008 still carried a show hosted by Tucker Carlson)—believe the Democrats are too soft on Wall Street.

You can see that shift in the race for governor of the Federal Reserve, where the liberal media has rallied behind Janet Yellen and against the more Wall Street–identified Larry Summers. In the age of MSNBC, populist Democrats enjoy a media echo chamber that gives them an advantage over pro-business Democrats that did not exist a decade ago. And if Clinton, who liberal pundits respect, runs against Warren, who liberal pundits revere, that echo chamber will benefit Warren.

Of course, Warren might not run. Or she might prove unready for the national stage. (She has no foreign-policy experience). But the youthful, anti-corporate passion that could propel her candidacy will be there either way. If Hillary Clinton is shrewd, she will embrace it, and thus narrow the path for a populist challenger. Just as New York by electing Ed Koch in 1978 foreshadowed a national shift to the right, New York in 2013 is foreshadowing a national shift to the left. The door is closing on the Reagan-Clinton era. It would be ironic if it was a Clinton herself who sealed it shut.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/12/the-rise-of-the-new-new-left.html

Chris Hayes: Bring on the upper-middle-class revolution!

By David Daley, Salon.com, Jun 25, 2013

Twenty years ago, William Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People?” documented the betrayal of American democracy by the elites — by both political parties, by the press, by corporations and labor unions, and by a Washington regulatory complex so perfectly corrupt that it exists to serve only the monied interests.

Chris Hayes’ “Twilight of the Elites” (just published in paperback) might be the clearest story of America’s collapse since Greider’s essential telling. The story, of course, has only gotten worse. In Greider’s book, the elites were complicit in profiteering and rigging the system to their own advantage. But in Hayes’ story, the elites misled us into war, bungled the occupation, let an American city drown, and tanked the economy. Other elites in academia, athletics and religion didn’t have such a great decade, either.

“Twilight of the Elites” is a story about inequality and myths: the myth of the meritocracy and the reality of the very uneven society that allows those, in the words of Ann Richards, who were born on third base to end up thinking they hit a triple — and then find themselves protected when they screw up.

As Hayes writes:

“Along with all the other rising inequalities we’ve become so familiar with — in income, in wealth, in access to politicians — we confront now a fundamental inequality of accountability. We can have a just society whose guiding ethos is accountability and punishment, where both black kids dealing weed in Harlem and investment bankers peddling fraudulent securities on Wall Street are forced to pay for their crimes, or we can have a just society whose guiding ethos is forgiveness and second chances, one in which both Wall Street banks and foreclosed households are bailed out, in which both insider traders and street felons are allowed to rejoin polite society with the full privileges of citizenship intact. But we cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside.”

The anchor of MSNBC’s “All In” every weeknight at 8 p.m. Eastern, Hayes has quickly become one of the country’s most essential public intellectuals. We met in his Rockefeller Center office last week before moving across the street for lunch. This is a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Is there a reason why elites have performed so particularly poorly in the last decade — whether we’re talking about the Iraq War and its aftermath; Katrina; the many failures on Wall Street and in the banking world that caused the Great Recession; right now, a security state that grants access to secrets to Edward Snowden, then appears to lose track of him. So why so much failure now? Are elites getting dumber?

Right. So why now, I think, two answers. One is that I don’t think I’m making the argument that current elite failure is the worst in American history. Clearly the antebellum slave power was –

But that’s going back 150 years.

I think around the Gilded Age, also the crash of 1896. But why now: I would just say it’s social distance and inequality. Basically, excessive social distance between elites and citizens produces excessive power for elites, and this is the result of a 30-year process in which that distance has been expanding and expanding and has introduced a governing financial class, particularly, that is incapable of not effing things up.

And yet it seems like a fairly new problem that we can no longer assume basic competence –

Yes.

– from those who at least appear to have risen on the merits of intelligence.

Yes. Because we a) have a myth we tell ourselves about how right they are for their jobs, and so we feel a greater sense of betrayal, because we’ve all constructed a national myth that’s like – of course these are the people who should be running things. And second of all, democracy, when it’s functioning, and democratic institutions, when they’re functioning, have beneficial cognitive effects, which is that they’re ways of aggregating information. And when you get very removed from that, and things become very inside baseball, inside games, people are going to make bad decisions.

So that’s a big part of it. People are embedded in these institutions, they are blinkered in these ways that means they’re making decisions outside the bounds of democratic accountability. Which can lead to corruption – like, moral transgression – but also, at the least, incompetence, because they’re literally not seeing the whole problem.

That’s the theme of a show like “The Wire,” which is essentially entirely about how all institutions rot from the inside — whether it’s egoism, whether it’s careerism, whether it’s just complete rank incompetence. That kind of institutional rot seems to me one of the most important stories of the day – the problems facing us are so serious and so large, and yet we seem completely unequipped to deal with them forthrightly and seriously – whether in Congress, in the media, in academia.

I think it’s hard to make these objective comparisons of different periods of institutional dysfunction, but the one thing you can do is at least look at polling data from the 1970s that gives you a subjective sense. The polling reflects an American populace that is more distrustful of their institutions than they have been since the polling began — and the polling began in the wake of Watergate! At a total nadir of public trust. So I think there is a level at which it is quite novel, at least in recent memory. I think, if you read the social criticism of the 1930s, there was something similar that happened there. The Great Crash did produce a kind of pervasive sense of betrayal and disillusionment society-wide in the ’30s, and that’s something that the writing today picks up on. It’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons, but I think in recent memory, I think the answer is a pretty resounding no.

So if these institutions are run by the smartest people, who rose through a meritocracy because they are so bright, how do they hollow out into such rank incompetence?

Well, there’s two answers. One is that the selection method – it’s not the case, that they’re the smartest people. The selection method says that it’s doing that, but the hydraulics of privilege mean that actually we’re creating an enclosed world of inbred elites, despite all our claims about the equality of opportunity and people of all races, creeds, backgrounds

You’re suggesting the American dream and the American democracy is a big lie we’re being fed!

Yes, exactly! (laughs) So there’s that. But there’s also – I talk about the cult of smartness in the book, but intelligence is a really slippery concept, and it’s a lot harder to pin down than it first looks. The cult of smartness is this very seductive but very misleading sense that smartness is an ordinal quality, like height, that could be perceived immediately and you can definitively rank people, that it’s a clear perception that can be made when it’s just not.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for intelligence, and it’s something that’s important to me, and it’s necessary, but far from sufficient. Intelligence in elites that is detached from lived experience, empathy, wisdom, judgment, compassion, self-skepticism, humility – detached from all those qualities, it can be a massively destructive trait. And I cite in the book [Dick Cheney aide] David Addington, who is the chief architect for much of what we have come to recognize as the most horrific aspects of particularly the torture regime, who is universally understood to be extremely bright. To me, he’s a kind of perfect example of what I call in the book “destructive intelligence.” People can be very bright and very destructive across the aisle. There’s Democrats, Republicans – a lot of people who are kind of “best and brightest” types. When somebody is really smart, in a palpable way, particularly when they’re competitive, or show off in a dominating way at meetings, they are cut a very wide berth.

Someone like Larry Summers, who is an intimidating guy.

Notoriously intimidating.  And that factors into who gets listened to, who gets ignored.

Your argument is post-ideological – and you’re right, there are plenty of left-leaning institutions that suffer from corruption and rot. But the major failings of this last decade — Iraq, Katrina, the housing bubble, malfeasance on Wall Street — essentially come to an end at the closing of the Bush era. Since then, we’ve been completely hamstrung during the Obama era in our ability to deal with these problems honestly. A lot of that is Congress. Some of it is because the institutional failures also breed a collapse in trust, which limits Obama’s ability to convince people that government can be an answer or a force for positive change.

But isn’t the second part of this that after showing off their own incompetence for a decade, this mistrust has been designed as a distraction for political purposes? That politics is being played with misdirected anger, fomented and ginned up and Astroturfed by the Koch brothers? How is it possible to rebuild the kind of faith we need in institutions and legitimate authority, in order to grapple with problems seriously, when so much of the debate itself is phony?

A few things. Society has to be re-democratized. I think we have an increasingly attenuated democracy. What you’re seeing with the street uprisings in Turkey and Brazil when the normal mechanisms of democratic government break down, but you have to reassert democratic accountability through these other, nonviolent means. I do think that institutional performance matters a huge amount. Obamacare is a good case study. It passed, sort of remarkably and impossibly, against tremendous mistrust and opposition. Still not popular, still seen as something kind of vaguely menacing, or confusing – but then the ultimate verdict will be if it works or not. I am a realist in that respect. I do think that institutional performance matters. If they do it right, and the institution performs, that will produce, I think, trust. Now, that can’t happen alone. I think the Obama theory of how to conquer this problem is precisely that: Pass the legislation, see if it works. Make government work for people. That’ll repair it. And that’s part of it, but the mistrust goes so much deeper than that. And then the third aspect of reasserting trust is accountability. People need to see corrupt institutions and corrupt and bankrupt police held accountable.

Which hasn’t happened.

At all.

Not Wall Street. Not the New York Times for Judy Miller.

I mean, one person pays one price. Basically, John McCain didn’t get to be president. A bunch of Republicans in the House lost their jobs over Iraq, as they should have. But that’s about it.

The system is not set up for accountability. There’s so much money and so little genuine choice that it’s almost impossible to lose your job in these districts. The only accountability comes if you lose your base and face a primary challenge. You have to really screw up.

Yeah, the accountability mechanisms – I mean the filibuster does a horrible, horrible thing. There’s a Keynes quote I love. I think it goes something like, “Nothing corrupts society more than the disconnect effort of war.” He’s writing it, I think, about the Bolsheviks at the time, but nothing corrupts a democracy more – disconnects inputs and outputs, mass opinion – and the filibuster is something that does that. It interrupts the conveyer belt. Like, right now, massive public opposition to arming the Syrian rebels.

Most of the same people, of both parties, who got us into Iraq. Speaking of no accountability.

Yeah. Just because a mass of people believe something doesn’t mean it’s right or the best policy, but the further and further away you get from that kind of basic alignment –

You write about Obama running as an insurrectionist, but governing as an institutionalist. Was that a misreading of the opportunities for genuine change? They talked about taking advantage of a crisis. Did they take advantage of a crisis, or did they miss the opportunity? He could have gone the insurrectionist route or he could attempt to build faith back in institutions, and he chose the latter. Wrong choice?

Well, I don’t know … I think he chose that because that’s who he is, in his heart of hearts. And so that was probably the right choice, because he shouldn’t have done the thing that wasn’t what he actually believed. And there was again – Obamacare is a good example. If that works, that’s a big deal, a huge deal! But I do think the biggest opportunity lost was this kind of accountability moment. No one was ever really held to account. No one was held to account for torture, or the financial crisis. That is a real kind of toxic presence in our national consciousness. That’s really problematic.

Are there reforms in the political system that would help, or is this train too far gone?

The standard lefty answer is public financing. Which I believe. It’s really an unsolved problem, though. Public financing would help, but the biggest problem is just the level of inequality. It’s just too big. In some ways, the problem is relatively simple. In a society with inequality like this, we’re just going to be in for a lot of problems.

And you have two sides that appear to be further apart, in some ways, than they ever have been. Not speaking to each other, not working off the same set of facts, even.

No, and there’s some interesting comparative political data that suggests a correlation between inequality and partisan polarization. The people who are most polarized are actually elites, particularly non-super-rich wealthy, like red state, blue state, that’s where the biggest – and they also have a disproportionate influence on politics.

And yet what’s also remarkable right now is that polarization includes folks who don’t believe in science, who would rather talk about masturbating fetuses ….

Yes.

So if one side of the debate mistrusts science, government, bureaucrats –

It’s Alex Jones … totally.

We are all truthers now. There were James Gandolfini truthers this morning.

There were Michael Hastings truthers emailing me.

There is a connection. So there are pathologies that afflict the American right that have to do with a whole bunch of things that a lot of people have written very smartly about. Race, ethnicity, demographic change, is one set of those issues. The increasingly secular/religious divide in America is another. The fact that the party is increasingly a Southern party and the South has always been different. In the history of the U.S. experiment, there’s like another country called the South. There’s a million maps you could construe on a bunch of different dimensions that show that; the South has always been a different place for a bunch of different reasons.

So the way that the current conservative moment, the American right and the Republican Party, manifest themselves, the way they express themselves and the way they behave, are kind of overdetermined by a set of different factors, but the two ways that overlap, I think, in the book is the role that inequality plays in it. There’s a sort of plutocratic set – this vector of the party that is essentially just kind of procuring the heart for the 1 percent. Not to minimize the 1 percent’s influence on the Democratic Party, but Larry Bartels and Martin Gillens’ data on this …the correlation between the Republican Party and wealthy voters is much higher than Democrats…How do we create this radicalized upper middle class? It makes perfect sense that all of those people who have lost jobs or seen pension plans go away  or seen careers melt due to the collapse of entire fields would somehow become more angry. Yet it’s still almost impossible to imagine a Turkish-style protest here. The idea of people not showing up for work and protesting – we’re as difficult a country to imagine that happening in as any.

I think right now a lot depends on the precariousness of the recovery and how that kind of manifests itself. One thing I will say is that it’s difficult to predict these outbursts. The Brazilian thing is fascinating because I don’t think anyone would have thought – and that’s kind of like Turkey. Sometimes discontent catalyzes in a way that’s unexpected.

What do you think the role of the news media is in all of this division and failure? The best and brightest led us into Vietnam during the years of the phony elite Walter Cronkite/James Reston consensus, so this isn’t necessarily new. But is it any coincidence that this decade of failure coincides with the explosion of cable news on one side, of partisan cable news, and also this institutional hollowing out of the media – both the daily press corps and the alternative press world?

Well, here’s what I would say. A more centralized media with larger levels of trust in it has some costs and benefits. The costs are that the more centralized media was stultifying, monopolistic, kept outside voices out – it had all sorts of problems with it. There’s all sorts of reasons I like our current media environment more than that. But it had a benefit. It was an equal player. It was this kind of bulwark. When media was less fragmented, more concentrated, and more trusting, it had this kind of confidence about itself that meant that it could act as a real check. It could be an Archimedian point for public opinion, and I think that’s been lost a little bit. It’s very difficult to produce social consensus under the fragmentation we have now. If the New York Times – the mainstream media says, yes, climate change is real, that doesn’t have the weight that it once would have, and that is problematic. That I really worry about.

But at the same time, there are tradeoffs, and I’m quite aware of that. There was a lot of bad things about the old model.

 

http://www.salon.com/2013/06/25/chris_hayes_bring_on_the_upper_middle_cla

The Four Plagues: New Strategies for Social Change Are Necessary

by Don Hazen, Executive Editor, AlterNet, June 22, 2013

Almost two weeks ago, I wrote an article:  “4 Plagues – Getting a Handle on the Coming Apocalypse.”  Reader response was strong, and the article quickly shot to top of our most-read list. I detailed the “plagues” that dominate our economy and way of life: financialization, militarization, and criminalization — forces that exacerbate the huge array of problems we face—poverty, unemployment, mass incarceration, climate destruction, gun violence, financial corruption, spying and privacy, and much more. They threaten democracy, fray our social order, worsen conditions in communities round the world, and damage our psychological health.

As a result, many of us are alarmed at the direction of our country, and rightly so. By many measures, our society is a depressing mess. Tens of millions are severely suffering economically, while many more are stressed out and traumatized, desperately attempting to cope with both chronic and acute problems they have never faced before.

Things Must Change

Clearly things must change. But what can really deliver the scope of change we need? The progressive response to the mounting array of negatives in our society is inadequate. The progressive movement lacks teeth. The focus is dispersed.  Often tactics are based on outdated assumptions or illusions, even nostalgia for past approaches that no longer deliver. We need to fight back more effectively— but how do we hone the right strategy?

The great movements of the past decades — civil rights, gay and women’s rights, the environmental movement, great anti-war marches  — they all are inspiration. But we are now in a very different reality. Many of us have been working hard to change things for a long time.  We are dedicated and persistent. And there is much going on across the country, primarily in small protests and grass roots activities. AlterNet reports on these activities every day. They give us small doses of hope.
But We Have Not Been Successful

Still, we have not won in the larger sense. We have not slowed the corporate juggernaut that crushes everyday Americans at every turn. The worst of corporate America effectively uses the radical conservatives as their shock troops to achieve economic policies that exploit 90% of Americans, and the corporate media joins in. 

But it isn’t just the evil doers who are responsible. We must face the music as well for what we have failed to do. Are we trying new approaches, bridging long-term divisions, challenging our own privileges?  We need fresh thinking and strategies that go beyond petitions, exchanges among ourselves, and reluctant support for often mediocre Democratic candidates who so often disappoint us when in office.

AlterNet doesn’t have the answers. But we have a lot of questions. And concerns about our future. 

We are a non-profit media company that has published tens of thousands of articles over the years by the smartest critics and analysts.  There are lots of ideas. But there is not remotely enough energy invested in how we might get those ideas implemented.  All the creative things that people write don’t lead to enough action, mobilization, resistance. We have to do more.

It’s Time To Do Things Differently

We at AlterNet are not going to keep doing what we have always done. We are going to do more than publish great writing, investigations, and analysis. We are going a step further to challenge ourselves and our readers and supporters, along with progressive thinkers and organizers.

It’s time for a consciousness-raising, and so AlterNet is going to invest time and resources in examining and evaluating strategies for change. Not just the ideas. But how to get there. How to bridge the huge gap between the ideas and the action, between theory and practice.

 We are going to engage our best thinkers and challenge them. We are going to take a close look at our most prominent social change activities and evaluate what they are accomplishing.

This is work beyond what we usually do, so we need to raise some extra money to do it. Will you help us? 

 We can’t guarantee that we will come up with great solutions. But we are going to try. And we will start by kicking off conversations that look for strategies that are inclusive and not primarily for elites. We will be exploring ways that progressives can marshal necessary resources for an independent politics without being heavily dependent on foundations.

And we want to hear from you. This is an open-ended process.  No one person’s or group’s ideas will trump the rest of us.  Hopefully we will end up with a clearer picture of what it will take to make progress toward a fair humane future we can believe in.

We very much appreciate your support as donors, readers, and promoters of AlterNet content. Now we are asking for something a little bit extra. We need your support as we take a tough look at progressive politics in America and see how it could be more effective and successful. Please join us.

Thank you,

Don Hazen
Executive Editor, AlterNet

Don Hazen (replies@alternet.org

The 4 Plagues: Getting a Handle on the Coming Apocalypse

AlterNet [1] / By Don Hazen [2],  June 4, 2013  |

Excerpt

…There is an abundance of evidence that there are forces tearing apart the U.S. economy and society, causing increasing levels of fear, anxiety and trauma for large numbers of people…There is the added problem that the theories and the means of social change we are familiar with, and to which we still turn, are not remotely up to the task we face, and have mostly proven to be inadequate. Virtually every problem we face has gotten worse over the past 40 years, and heavily sped up since 9/11 and the economic crash of 2007…So the big question is: what is the “it” that has happened to us? Depending on your vantage point and the myriad problems in front of us, “it” can be any number of causes and factors…the disappearance of the sense of a democracy many thought was embedded in U.S society…Many people feel they have no control over the direction of the country because their vote doesn’t matter—incumbents with the most money mostly get elected. Many voters feel trapped by the lack of options because of pro-corporate stances of both Republicans and Democrats, and then there is another beast—the rabid right-wing...personal economic loss, of homes, jobs, personal wealth, or increased debt, all which has contributed to a massive erosion of financial security…financial security for the future, often referred as the “American Dream,” is increasingly out of reach for many millions…This is the first generation since the Great Depression that will make less money [11] and have fewer resources than their parents…The list of concerns and anxieties goes on and on…there are many forms of the capitalist economic system that don’t produce the dire results we have here in the U.S. The problem is the special brand of American capitalism, with its thousands of interlocking parts feeding on each other, that ends up controlling and exploiting a majority of Americans. It is important to deconstruct how this happens in a digestible way…What steps can we take to protect ourselves, to shift the momentum?

A first step is to try to get clear about the nature of how all these forces are coming together to make us so stressed out, and perhaps collectively on the verge of a nervous breakdown…After all the years publishing many thousands of articles, what is happening today feels fundamentally unprecedented—the combination of spiritual malaise and social collapse, an abundance of cruelty and callousnessthere are four especially powerful and pernicious overarching economic and political mechanisms operating. These are privatization, financialization, militarization, and criminalization, which together are producing a steadily creeping authoritarianism…Privatization is pervasive in our culture, tearing the moorings away from democratic ideals and the commons—the common ground that has held many communities together for centuries...The signs of militarization are increasingly visible in the nation’s police forces…criminalization… our world of mass incarceration…So, looking through the lens of these four plagues provides me with a useful handle on what is happening to our country, and to the globe. They help explain trends and shifts that are destroying the middle class, exacerbating poverty, keeping millions in jail, and traumatizing many millions more…there are several cross-cutting fundamentals of U.S. capitalism which fuel the oppressive nature of the plagues and help us understand how they interact…1. Follow the money: For every unfair, exploitative and destructive force going on in America—and there are so many—some corporations or groups of people are profiting… 2. When following the money, it is often the case that the system picks on the weakest. 3. The best way to maximize profits and make radical changes in policies is to take advantage of crises. We all know what happened after the horrible death and destruction of 9/11. Our government, the Bush administration, orchestrated the most gigantic overreaction in history, turning a criminal case to the ongoing “war on terror,” which has transformed most of our lives in many negative ways.

What to Do—The Challenges Ahead

How do we fight these massive interlocking forces that often seem impossible to slow down, let alone stop and change? Well, there is good news and bad news.

The first answer is, we don’t stop the machine, at least now, because we can’t, not at this moment in history, anyway. At the present, there is no large-scale, coordinated, funded plan, across issue lines to organize a mass movement capable of putting a dent in the juggernaut; and there are some major problems on the social change organizing front to be sure…Nevertheless, there is a lot of good news on the activism front….I am personally frustrated, that some of our biggest thinkers and experts are not investing much of their brain power or political capital in the bigger picture of strategy and tactics—the battles to gaining more political clout to confront the power centers. The ability to build to a point where millions of people are in the streets is currently not on the horizon. So there is much work to be done in that regard. An assessment of the possibilities to change, and a range of the options is beyond the scope of this article, but will be forthcoming.

Full text

Every day, thousands, probably millions of people ask their family, friends, neighbors and colleagues similar and increasingly familiar questions: What has happened to our country? How did we get here? Isn’t it scary? Can anything be done about it?

There is an abundance of evidence that there are forces tearing apart the U.S. economy and society, causing increasing levels of fear, anxiety and trauma for large numbers of people. Many people are mystified as to the specific causes of their fears, with a mass media system that constantly broadcasts propaganda about how great America is and a new digital media system that may be exacerbating the problems for a society under immense and unprecedented duress.

There is the added problem that the theories and the means of social change we are familiar with, and to which we still turn, are not remotely up to the task we face, and have mostly proven to be inadequate. Virtually every problem we face has gotten worse over the past 40 years, and heavily sped up since 9/11 and the economic crash of 2007.

In an environment of confusion and despair, it can be helpful to name the beast—essentially to understand the forces at play, how they operate, and why they feel both intractable and overwhelming. So, what follows is a kind of Users’ Guide To What Is Freaking Us Out.”

What Has Happened to Us?

So the big question is: what is the “it” that has happened to us? Depending on your vantage point and the myriad problems in front of us, “it” can be any number of causes and factors.

For many, it is the disappearance of the sense of a democracy many thought was embedded in U.S society. Sure, we’ve always been ruled by elites. But we are in a new era where we feel crushed by the overwhelming dominance of corporations and big institutions that treat people like commodities, getting away with degrading people’s dignities while pocketing large profits. This is especially true of banks, which are now so big they are beyond the reach of the legal system for fear that the global economy will be adversely affected.

Many people feel they have no control over the direction of the country because their vote doesn’t matter—incumbents with the most money mostly get elected. Many voters feel trapped by the lack of options because of pro-corporate stances of both Republicans and Democrats, and then there is another beast—the rabid right-wing.Our legislators are bought by campaign contributions and seem incapable of constructive action. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United [3], and the fact that legally corporations are often treated like persons, is beyond most people’s comprehension.

Economic Disaster For Many

For others, the anxiety producing “it” is directly connected to personal economic loss, of homes, jobs, personal wealth, or increased debt, all which has contributed to a massive erosion of financial security.

The statistics are quite shocking. The poor are suffering—more than 46 million Americans live at or below the poverty level [4], which is $23,201 for a family of four. That’s $5,800 per person; but a far larger group of 138 million people (nearly 40% of American households)—many of whom had considered themselves part of the middle class—are living paycheck to paycheck [5]. And, according to a Pew Foundation survey [6], “nearly a quarter of Americans (24%) say they had trouble putting food on the table in the past 12 month revealing a painful level of deprivation and family trauma despite the U.S.  being the richest country in the world. Our level of deprivation is closer to that in Indonesia or Greece rather than Britain or Canada.”

Especially for Those About to Retire … Or Thought They Were

Furthermore, financial security for the future, often referred as the “American Dream,” is increasingly out of reach for many millions.  This is especially true for those approaching retirement—a goal that has been undermined, even destroyed, by the economic crash of 2007, which robbed so many of what small wealth they had. Over the long run, a major culprit has been the replacement of pensions by the grossly inadequate 401K model, which is forcing millions of Americans to keep on working, or find marginal jobs to help pay the bills as they age, or in some cases fall into poverty, living only on a meager Social Security stipend.

As Joshua Holland recently noted, this trend “has been an integral part of what Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker called the great risk-shift [7], in which the burden of paying for education, healthcare and retirement has increasingly shifted from corporations and the government onto the backs of individuals and families.”

Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at the New School for Social Research writes, [8] “The specter of downward mobility in retirement is a looming reality for both middle- and higher-income workers. Almost half of middle-class workers, 49 percent, will be poor or near poor in retirement, living on a food budget of about $5 a day.” She adds, “Seventy-five percent of Americans nearing retirement age in 2010 had less than $30,000 [9] in their retirement accounts.”

But the situation is far from great for recent college graduates, many of whom are being crushed under student loan debt [10], while facing a competitive and often exploitative job market, where all too often an unpaid internship is an essential way to advance in a career. This is the first generation since the Great Depression that will make less money [11] and have fewer resources than their parents. Perhaps because of dealing with all the stress, this generation has a prescription pill epidemic on their hands, which may be leading to a significant increase in suicides in their demographic.

Take Your Pick

This first summary just touches on some of the economic problems. The list of concerns and anxieties goes on and on—here are some of the most prominent, but any reader will be able to add her own to the list:

• The lack of an adequate response to the looming climate crisis [12].

• Mass incarceration, in which 2.3 million Americans, a huge number of them African American and Latino, are behind bars [13].

• The huge and still expanding security state, as police forces militarize, even in small cities and towns.

• A high level of unemployment [14] at 7.5 %, considerably beyond what historically has been acceptable. And as Andrew Ross points out [15] in the San Francisco Chronicle, “12.2 million Americans are classified as ‘not in the labor force’ because they’re considered ‘discouraged.” When you add in the discouraged and the reluctant part-timers (7.2 million people) the unemployment rate jumps first to 9%, then to 13.9%.

• The continued prevalence [16] of violence against women, often fueled by alcohol, and by the culture of rape in the U.S. military.

• The war on poor students [17] as testing dominates the move toward privatizing public elementary and secondary education via charter schools; and in public schools, kids are increasingly treated as criminals [18].

• The assault [19] on journalists, civil liberties and whistleblowers by a Democratic president, who campaigned quite differently than he is governing.

• The return of many wounded and psychological damaged soldiers from our two wars, where hundreds of thousands of soldiers are suffering [20] from PTSD, and often lacking in supportive services to help them cope.

• The still-unchallenged power of the NRA, as many states are passing more lax gun laws, or making sure there are no gun control laws at all, despite the popular will, and the overwhelming data [21] documenting the number of people killed by guns.

The list of disasters adds up to a very dark picture; the future looks bleak for tens of millions of people, a fact that has produced an epidemic of fear and anxiety. And finding our way out is a huge challenge, in part because the safety net keeps getting shredded, and the guidebooks we have used to challenge oppressive power are not capable of leading the way.

Many critics have been content to attribute the current state of affairs to a particularly virulent brand of casino capitalism [22] practiced in the U.S. and gaining dominance globally. Sure, this is true. But it is not sufficient to simply chalk up our predicament to capitalism, because there are many forms of the capitalist economic system that don’t produce the dire results we have here in the U.S.

The problem is the special brand of American capitalism, with its thousands of interlocking parts feeding on each other, that ends up controlling and exploiting a majority of Americans. It is important to deconstruct how this happens in a digestible way.

The Symptoms Are All Around Us

A strong case can be made that collectively we are traumatized as a society, though perhaps reluctant to admit it. A constant barrage of stress, anxiety, intrusion, incarceration, and a generalized drumbeat of fear from the media and we have the mess we are in. Increasingly, despair leads to addiction, violence and even suicide, especially for people hardest hit by job loss.

Newly released and striking figures [23] from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that from 1999 to 2010 the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, up from 13.7 to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2010 more people in the U.S. died from suicide than from car crashes—a statistic that alone seems to stand as troubling testament to desperate times. As the New York Times notes [24], the CDC and other experts believe the suicide figures to be on the low side.

Another striking symptom is high levels of stress that lead to drug use, abuse and addiction. Research [25] concludes that stress can render people susceptible to serious illness, and that chronic stress can play a role in the progression of cancer. It is hard to believe, but 11 percent of all Americans aged 12 and older, which is well over 30 million people, are currently taking [26] antidepressants despite the danger of suicide for some users.

And a stunning 23 percent of women in their 40s and 50s are now taking antidepressants according to a major study [26] by the CDC.

And that is before you consider alcohol abuse and the fact that the majority [27] of violence toward women is fueled by alcohol.

A Useful Blueprint

Given the malaise that many are grappling with, the increasing feelings of desperation can feel confusing, overwhelming and crazy-making. Where do we start? How do we understand what is happening so that what we learn can help us take action and improve our outlook? What steps can we take to protect ourselves, to shift the momentum?

A first step is to try to get clear about the nature of how all these forces are coming together to make us so stressed out, and perhaps collectively on the verge of a nervous breakdown. As AlterNet’s executive editor, I have personally been engaged for many years in all the issues and developments described above, publishing much of the best writing on every topic. I too have felt overwhelmed by the tsunami crashing over us. After all the years publishing many thousands of articles, what is happening today feels fundamentally unprecedented—the combination of spiritual malaise and social collapse, an abundance of cruelty and callousness.

Recently I found a way of better understanding the forces that are at play, which I want to share in case it can be helpful. Basically, in this analysis there are four especially powerful and pernicious overarching economic and political mechanisms operating. These are privatization, financialization, militarization, and criminalization, which together are producing a steadily creeping authoritarianism—a new authoritarianism—to fit our times. Let’s call them the Four Plagues, or if we wish, “The Four Horsemen of Our Apocalypse,” from the Book of Revelations in the New Testament.

Actually, according to most accounts, the four riders are seen as symbolizing Conquest, War [28], Famine [29], and Death [30], respectively. So, they’re not exactly analogous, but you get the idea: it’s about very bad stuff that is coming.

The four “plagues” are very potent. With financialization we are confronting a new hyper form of capitalism, underway for years, but especially apparent with the crash of 2007. Author David Graeber describes the financialization of capitalism in an interview with the SF Bay Guardian as “… casino capitalism, speculation… they are making money out of thin air. … It is based on getting everyone in debt.”

Graeber adds that the profits of Wall Street are increasingly based on finance, not commerce, which means “…they go into your bank account and take your money.” Extracted by the finance sector are mortgages, credit card debt, loan debt, all the fees and penalties you are not noticing. Graeber estimates the finance sector is at or near 20 percent of the economy.

Privatization is pervasive in our culture, tearing the moorings away from democratic ideals and the commons—the common ground that has held many communities together for centuries. Schools, highways, parks, many things we hold dear are being taken away from public stewardship. Perhaps the privatization of water, where the huge multinational Nestle is leading the way globally, is the most daunting. In his thorough analysis of Nestle, the world’s largest food company and the most profitable corporation in the world according to the Global Fortune 500, Andrew Gavin Marshall writes [31] that Nestle’s chairman, Peter Brabeck, believes that nature is not “good,” that there is nothing to worry about with GMO foods, that profits matter above all else, that people should work more, and that human beings do not have a right to water.

The signs of militarization are increasingly visible in the nation’s police forces, especially with drug raids, as well as the escalated capture of undocumented immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the point where far more immigrants have been deported during the Obama administration than during George W. Bush’s tenure. There is also now a massive private prison operation mainly to handle those immigrants arrested.

The U.S. is still by far the world’s largest arms dealer, and we have military bases in 63 countries [32], and all across the U.S. as well, with nearly 1,140,000 soldiers in uniform [33].

The militarization of America was on graphic display in the over-reactions in response to the Boston bombing. The entire city of Boston was shut down and a kind of martial law declared as millions were told to stay indoors and lock up. Public events were canceled, transportation in and out of the city ceased, people were stranded at the airport—and all because a wide array of police forces were searching for a wounded 19-year-old on foot. The horrible bombing with its horrendous death and destruction traumatized many. But it is likely that the overwhelming police response—local police, ATF, FBI, DEA, etc.—traumatized the population even more. The military model of “lockdown” has become the default response to many disturbances. The use of SWAT teams all over the U.S. has increased dramatically, as the military has supplied local police forces with a wide array of super-powerful weaponry, often far beyond what is needed.

Cornell West Speaks

In a recent dialogue with Institute of New Economic Thinking’s [34] (INET) Rob Johnson at Columbia Theological Seminary, Cornell West used the first three of what I am now calling “plagues” as examples of what is scaring him as he sees our society heading toward fascism. I thank him for his help in advancing my thinking.

I was struck by what West said, but I realized that it is necessary to add criminalization as a fourth plague for a fuller picture. In our world of mass incarceration, we see students, poor people, the homeless, debtors, drug users, and whole neighborhoods being criminalized in huge numbers. One powerful example is in the efforts by the New York Police Department known as “stop-and-frisk [35].” Since Michael Bloomberg became mayor of New York City in 2002, stop-and-frisk increased by 600%, [36] from 100,000 New Yorkers targeted to almost 685,000 in 2011. Nearly 90% of those stopped are black or Latino.

Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow

More than 2 million people in jail has resulted in what author and lawyer Michelle Alexander has called the “New Jim Crow,” in her book of the same name. Despite the civil rights movement, theoretical progress on racism, and even an African-American president, more people of color are in jail than were ever slaves; more people are jailed in the U.S. than in any other place in the world. As Alexander writes: “Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.”

According to the NAACP [13], from 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled, from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people. Today, the US is 5% of the world population and has 25% of the world’s prisoners.

Millions in jail is part of a strategy of mass incarceration fueled by the highly funded and militarized war on drug users, which is primarily aimed at the poor and people of color. The racist caste of the criminal justice system is overwhelming: African Americans, incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, now constitute nearly one million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population. Mass incarceration accomplished in the 21st century what slavery accomplished more than 150 years ago: the oppression and disenfranchisement of a whole generation of black men.

So, looking through the lens of these four plagues provides me with a useful handle on what is happening to our country, and to the globe. They help explain trends and shifts that are destroying the middle class, exacerbating poverty, keeping millions in jail, and traumatizing many millions more. Most of it can be attributed to one or more of the plagues, and often all four.

Essential Ingredients for the Success of the Plagues

But I don’t want to stop here. To best understand the plagues, there are several cross-cutting fundamentals of U.S. capitalism which fuel the oppressive nature of the plagues and help us understand how they interact.

1. Follow the money: For every unfair, exploitative and destructive force going on in America—and there are so many—some corporations or groups of people are profiting. Not only are they making a lot of money, they have also very likely built a powerful infrastructure to ensure the security of their cash flow using a potent array of tools to protect their interests. These are lobbyists, PR agents, campaign contributions, trade associations to agitate for their interests, and with overarching powerful giant entities like the chamber of commerce to provide the protective umbrella.

2. When following the money, it is often the case that the system picks on the weakest. Long ago, someone figured out that the easiest way to make a lot of money is to paradoxically target those who don’t have much.Or use powerless people as scapegoats to leverage access to large pots of money. One example is state lotteries, about which AlterNet’s Steve Rosenfeld explains: “What many people don’t know about lotteries is that they prey on those who can least afford it.” State lotteries [37] amount to a hidden tax on the poor. They eat up about 9 percent of take-home incomes from households making less than $13,000 a year. They siphon $50 billion a year away from local businesses—besides stores where they’re sold.

Another example is that the privatization of the public school system is on the backs of poor kids, with the discredited fantasy that schools will be improved when people make money off of them. “Rent to own,” “payday loans” and many other tactics of capitalism all exploit poor people.

3. The best way to maximize profits and make radical changes in policies is to take advantage of crises. We all know what happened after the horrible death and destruction of 9/11. Our government, the Bush administration, orchestrated the most gigantic overreaction in history, turning a criminal case to the ongoing “war on terror,” which has transformed most of our lives in many negative ways.

The aftermath of 9/11, which includes the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, also created the most extraordinary secret government in the history of humankind. The Washington Post, in an unprecedented investigation that took two years, discovered a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in oversight. “After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is a system incredibly massive –1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States. An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.”

Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine has helped us understand that when crises erupt, those in power will use the opportunity to increase power in extreme and undemocratic ways, in what is now called “Disaster Capitalism.” For example, as Kristen Rawls reports, [38] after the massive impact of Hurricane Katrina, most of the schools in New Orleans’ Parish were replaced by charter schools.

What to Do—The Challenges Ahead

How do we fight these massive interlocking forces that often seem impossible to slow down, let alone stop and change? Well, there is good news and bad news.

The first answer is, we don’t stop the machine, at least now, because we can’t, not at this moment in history, anyway. At the present, there is no large-scale, coordinated, funded plan, across issue lines to organize a mass movement capable of putting a dent in the juggernaut; and there are some major problems on the social change organizing front to be sure.

The Occupy movement was a great moment, and a popular response to financialization and militarization. But then we saw the surveillance state in action as police power along with the titans of big finance crushed the dissent. Certainly Occupy generated, at least for a time, a new level of discourse on economic fairness and exploitation. But it is already a memory, and the system of the “four plagues” grinds on as the wealth gap increases every week.

On the other hand, no one could have predicted Occupy. Is there another upheaval waiting to explode?

Nevertheless, there is a lot of good news on the activism front. As Kevin Zeese [39] and Margaret Flowers write, “Every week we are inspired by the many people throughout the country who are doing excellent work to challenge the power structure and put forward a new path for the country. The popular resistance to plutocracy, concentrated wealth and corporatism is decentralized, creative and growing.”

A couple of examples, according to Zeese and Flowers, include a growing series of protests called “the ‘Moral Monday’ demonstrations in North Carolina ….challenging the systemic corruption, undermining of democracy and misdirection of a state government that puts human needs second to corporate profits—which they have dubbed ‘Robin Hood in Reverse.’”

There was a recent victory for Seattle teachers and students [40] that resulted from their citywide protests against standardized testing. The school district announced that testing in the high schools would not occur next year. The teachers said they will keep protesting until the tests are banned from lower grades as well.”

There are dozens of examples like this. Hopefully momentum will build, although the obstacles are formidable and the forces of repression ready to step in at any moment.

Still, being realistic, the challenges of building resistance, finding ways to reform and change the “system” is hugely daunting. Many thinkers argue that our version of exploitative capitalism is doomed, and will someday fall apart. The only problem is, those thinkers have no idea how to bring down capitalism, or even change the system, beyond critiquing it. The number of people and books that bewail the system are many, but the path to solutions, almost nil. Meanwhile, more people suffer every day.

I am personally frustrated, that some of our biggest thinkers and experts are not investing much of their brain power or political capital in the bigger picture of strategy and tactics—the battles to gaining more political clout to confront the power centers. The ability to build to a point where millions of people are in the streets is currently not on the horizon. So there is much work to be done in that regard. An assessment of the possibilities to change, and a range of the options is beyond the scope of this article, but will be forthcoming.

See more stories tagged with:

economics [41],

poverty [42],

military [43],

security [44]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/4-plagues-getting-handle-coming-apocalypse

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/don-hazen
[3] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf
[4] http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/
[5] http://www.consumerfed.org/news/560
[6] http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/05/23/advanced-economies-report-lowest-deprivation/
[7] http://www.commonwealthmagazine.org/Voices/Conversation/2007/Winter/Great-Risk-Shift-author-Jacob-Hacker-on-the-growing-financial-perils-for-modern-families.aspx
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/22/opinion/sunday/our-ridiculous-approach-to-retirement.html?_r=0
[9] http://www.economicpolicyresearch.org/guaranteeing-retirement-income/528-retirement-account-balances-by-income-even-the-highest-earners-dont-have-enough.html
[10] http://www.alternet.org/story/152809/the_$1_trillion_student_loan_rip-off%3A_how_an_entire_generation_was_tricked_into_taking_on_crushing_debt_that_just_enriches_banks
[11] http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_detail.aspx?id=596
[12] http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/
[13] http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet
[14] http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlenzner/2013/05/30/16-trillion-only-reduces-unemployment-from-8-to-7-5/
[15] http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/bottomline/article/Long-term-unemployed-pushed-to-margins-4489203.php
[16] http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/Worldswomen/WW2010%20Report_by%20chapter(pdf)/violence%20against%20women.pdf
[17] http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/poor-kids-booted-their-preschool-programs-thanks-sequestration
[18] http://www.alternet.org/story/154276/strip-searching_kids_6_shocking_ways_our_schools_treat_students_like_criminals
[19] http://www.alternet.org/5-worst-obama-assaults-civil-liberties-besides-ap-scandal
[20] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/winter09/articles/winter09pg10-14.html
[21] http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/major-evidence-siding-nras-gun-nut-agenda-politically-radioactive
[22] http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/933484/why_obama_should_be_attacking_casino_capitalism_–_both_romney’s_bain_and_jpmorgan
[23] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.PDF
[24] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/health/suicide-rate-rises-sharply-in-us.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130503
[25] http://baywood.metapress.com/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,2,22;journal,156,175;linkingpublicationresults,1:300314,1
[26] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db76.htm
[27] https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/188266.pdf
[28] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War
[29] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famine
[30] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death
[31] http://www.alternet.org/environment/human-beings-have-no-right-water-and-other-words-wisdom-your-friendly-neighborhood
[32] http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-worldwide-network-of-us-military-bases/5564
[33] http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2012/04/us/table.military.troops/
[34] http://ineteconomics.org/
[35] http://www.nyclu.org/issues/racial-justice/stop-and-frisk-practices
[36] http://www.alternet.org/5-disturbing-revelations-nypd-stop-and-frisk-trial-about-aggressive-racist-policing
[37] http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/disturbing-facts-about-state-lotteries-they-prey-poor-and-trash-economy-and-political
[38] http://www.alternet.org/education/corporations-advise-school-closings-while-private-charters-suck-public-schools-away
[39] http://www.alternet.org/activism/popular-resistance-percolating-across-country-inspiring-activism-corporate-media-always
[40] http://october2011.org/blogs/margaret-flowers/victory-seattle-teachers-win-battle-standardized-test-boycott
[41] http://www.alternet.org/tags/economics-0
[42] http://www.alternet.org/tags/poverty-0
[43] http://www.alternet.org/tags/military-0
[44] http://www.alternet.org/tags/security-0
[45] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B